The Obama administration points out some governments have gotten out of Section 5 under the now old rules. For example, 31 cities and counties and Virginia successfully petitioned to be exempt from the preclearance requirements in recent years, though the rest of the state remains under federal oversight.
The law had been working in preventing "discriminatory voting changes," Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Specifically, he mentioned how it blocked Texas from adopting a new congressional redistricting map that would have "discriminated against Latino voters."
Holder also said the Voting Rights Act changed how South Carolina will implement a law requiring photo identification before being allowed to vote. Those changes, he said, protected black voters who would have been "disproportionately" affected.
Obama characterized Tuesday's ruling as a "setback," even as he vowed his "administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process."
Voting discrimination, he said, still exists, and the decision "upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair."
Others offered even stronger language.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York called Tuesday's decision a "devastating blow for civil rights and voting rights;" New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described it as "deeply troubling;" and NAACP President Ben Jealous called the decision "outrageous," because it makes minority voters "more vulnerable to the flood of attacks we have seen in recent years."
Rep. Marcia Fudge, chairwoman of the Black Congressional Caucus -- in a statement that included remarks from the heads of Hispanic and Asian groups in Congress -- slammed the high court for its choice "to ignore" reports that" racial discrimination in voting districts continues to exist."
But the sentiments were markedly different in Alabama, where Gov. Robert Bentley said the decision "reflects how conditions have improved."
"The justices correctly acknowledged that the covered jurisdictions should no longer be punished by the federal government for conditions that existed over 40 years ago," said Frank Ellis, the county attorney for Shelby County, where 11% of residents are African-American compared to 28% statewide. "The South is an altogether different place than it was in 1965."
Edward Blum, a conservative and director of the Project on Fair Representation, said Tuesday he's happy that no government is now singled out.
"This decision restores an important constitutional order to our system of government," he said. "And that requires that all 50 states and every jurisdiction have the laws applied equally to them."