This is extremely significant because the part of the Act that is under review - Section 5 - has put mostly southern states in a straight jacket when seeking to change their voting laws.
The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.
Three years ago, the court expressed concern about subjecting some states to stricter standards than others using a formula developed decades ago. But the justices sidestepped the constitutional question and found a narrow way to decide that case.
Friday's decision to accept the challenge from Shelby County, Ala., is the court's second major case this term involving race. Last month, the justices heard a challenge to the University of Texas's admissions policy that could redefine or eliminate the use of affirmative action in higher-education admissions.
This month, the court will decide whether to take up another civil rights issue: same-sex marriage. Two appeals courts have declared unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. The court must also decide whether to intervene in a decision by federal courts to overturn California's Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The Section 5 requirements were passed during the darkest days of the civil rights struggle, paving the way for expanded voting rights for African Americans and greatly increasing the number of minority officeholders.
But critics say that the method for selecting the places subject to the special supervision - which include nine states and parts of seven others - is outdated. They say Congress should have spent more time investigating whether those classifications still made sense.
Indeed, many counties that are subject to Voting Rights Act restrictions are politically controlled by African Americans. It's ludicrous to think that they would disenfranchise minorities. Also, Obama's Justice Department has scotched Voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina - based on the bogus notion that the law discriminates against minorities and is a plot by Republicans to suppress the black vote. Repeal of Section 5 would prevent the politicization of voter fraud legislation.
The NAACP thinks the law is still necessary:
"In the midst of the recent assault on voter access, the Voting Rights Act is playing a pivotal role beating back discriminatory voting measures," said Debo P. Adegbile, acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The Justice Department enforces the law unequally by ignoring wrongdoing by minorities in voting rights cases. The Supreme Court should recognize that there has been great progress in protecting minority rights at the ballot box and that singling out some states because of past injustices can no longer be accepted.