• With: Jason Riley, James Freeman, Dan Henninger, Joe Rago, Collin Levy

    FREEMAN: So I'm worried that the Christie reform era may be over there. Let's hope not. But he's going to have a tough time getting any more reform through that legislature.

    GIGOT: All right.

    When we come back, the Supreme Court takes up a challenge to a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the left is crying foul. But would striking it down strike a blow for racial progress?

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    GIGOT: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama, to a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of that act requires states with a history of denying blacks the franchise to get pre-clearance or advanced permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before they make changes to their election law. Such federal enforcement was responsible for sweeping away poll taxes and other obstacle to voting in the past. But critics say it's no longer necessary. Are they right?

    We're back with Dan Henninger and Jason Riley. And Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy, joins the panel.

    So, Collin, what is the core issue in this case?

    COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Paul, the core issue is that Section 5 as you mentioned has historically had a successful way of equalizing, you know, basically black and white turnout --

    GIGOT: Right.

    LEVY:  -- and voting, and addressing that in the south. Basically, just - - there isn't a need for it anymore. What happened was the 1965 Voting Rights Act said that a number of southern states, nine southern states and parts of seven others, needed to basically get pre-clearance for any changes?

    GIGOT: Right.

    LEVY: And those changes, if they happen -- you know, the problems in those southern states just aren't existing anymore, so.

    GIGOT: It applies to -- the Section 5 applies only to some states, not others. And the question is, is it right under the Constitution to still apply that kind of scrutiny to only some states, if their record isn't any worse than any other state?

    Jason?

    RILEY: And the record is it has been a tremendous success story. It's one of those rare federal pieces of legislation that has the -- that turned out exactly --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Mark this down --

    (LAUGHTER)

    -- Riley says federal law works.

    RILEY: It's also important to realize, if this section is found obsolete and you think that an election law is discriminatory, there's real resource now. And others are permanent.

    (CROSSTALK)

    RILEY: -- are not coming back.

    GIGOT: Let's be clear on this. This is not about repealing all of the Voting Rights Act.

    RILEY: Exactly.

    GIGOT: This is about repealing only one part of it that applies only to some states.

    RILEY: And just to reiterate how successful it's been, in 1964, the year before it passed, black voter registration in Mississippi was less than 7 percent, the lowest in the south. One year after this law passed, it was 60 percent, the highest in the south. And today, black voter registration rates are higher in states than they are in states not covered by Section 5.

    GIGOT: What about the argument you hear --

    LEVY: That's right.

    GIGOT: -- from the people who still want this supported? Who say, look, if you do away with the pre-clearance requirement, you'll get last-minute attempts by states or localities to move polling places or impose some things that liberals don't like, like voter I.D., which might restrict -- they can play some games, in other words, before elections if you don't have the Justice Department supervising this in advance.

    HENNINGER: In those states.

    GIGOT: Right.

    HENNINGER: I mean, this came out so clearly in the -- no, those six states, not the north, the south. Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi were mentioned in the oral arguments. And the argument is that those southern states might discriminate.

    GIGOT: Yes.

    HENNINGER: As Justice Breyer put it, it was a terrible disease in 1965, it's a little bit better now, but the disease of discrimination in the south might come back.

    GIGOT: Right. But what's your response to that?

    HENNINGER: My response to that is that you cannot, shall we say, discriminate against seven states if you're not going to apply the law equally to the rest of the states in the union.

    GIGOT: Under the Constitution.

    HENNINGER: Under the Constitution.

    GIGOT: An equal footing --

    (CROSSTALK)