Published: Feb 02, 2011 8:48 PM EST
Updated: Feb 02, 2011 5:49 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge is questioning whether a key component of the landmark Voting Rights Act is outdated.

At a hearing Wednesday in Washington, U.S. District Judge John Bates asked repeatedly about a section of the law that singles out mostly Southern states for additional election monitoring because they have histories of racial discrimination 40 or 50 years ago.

An Alabama county is suing the government over the law in a case that many predict will reach the Supreme Court.

Shelby County, with backing from conservative legal groups, maintains that it and other governments should no longer be forced to get federal approval before changing election procedures. The Justice Department and others counter that the localities are now using more subtle means to suppress minority votes.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)