WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, rejecting an Alabama county’s challenge to the landmark civil rights law.

The provision requires state, county and local governments with a history of discrimination to obtain advance approval from the Justice Department, or from a federal court in Washington, for any changes to election procedures. It now applies to all or parts of 16 states, including South Carolina.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that Congress developed extensive evidence of continuing racial discrimination just six years ago and reached a reasonable conclusion when it reauthorized section 5 of the law at that time.

Judge David Tatel wrote for the majority that the court owes deference to Congress’ judgment on the matter.

“Congress documented hundreds of instances in which the attorney general, acting pursuant to section 5, objected to proposed voting changes that he found would have a discriminatory purpose or effect,” Tatel wrote.

In dissent, Judge Stephen Williams said the Voting Rights Act “imposes rather extraordinary burdens” based on information about discrimination that is several decades old.

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Section 5 currently applies to the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. It also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, as well as some local jurisdictions in Michigan and New Hampshire.

Tatel, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, was joined in his ruling by Judge Thomas Griffith, an appointee of President George W. Bush. Williams is an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.