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KHQ.COM - The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the map that determines which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws.

The ruling, a 5-4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, leaves the future of the law deeply uncertain because it will be up to a sharply divided Congress to redraw the map.

"Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions," Roberts wrote for the court.

Under the law, nine mostly Southern states must get permission from the Justice Department or a special panel of three federal judges before they make changes. The rule also applies to 12 cities and 57 counties elsewhere.

The act is considered the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed. Congress has renewed it four times, most recently in 2006, with overwhelming margins in both houses. That renewal extended the law through 2031.

But the law still uses election data from 1972 to determine which states, cities and counties are covered. Some jurisdictions complained that they are being punished for the sins of many decades ago.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by three other members of the court's more liberal wing.

The case was brought by Shelby County, Ala., which urged the Supreme Court to strike down both the permission requirement itself and the formula that determines which jurisdictions are covered.

The justices, particularly those on the court's conservative wing, had expressed deep skepticism when the case was argued in February that the permission requirement is still necessary.

The wide margins of approval in Congress, Justice Antonin Scalia said at the argument, are likely the result of "perpetuation of racial entitlement" — a remark that angered some veterans of the civil rights movement.

"Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements," Scalia said, "it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes."

And the court signaled four years ago, in a decision that narrowly rejected a challenge to the permission requirement, that it had doubts about whether at least parts of the Voting Rights Act were constitutional.

"Things have changed in the South," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in that decision. "Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare."

This is a breaking story. Please check back for updates.