Washington (CNN) – Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday he couldn't believe he was reliving a civil rights battle, pointing to the Supreme Court's division over a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"I never thought we'd have to refight so many fights," Biden said at a reception for Black History Month at the Naval Observatory in Washington.
The high court heard oral arguments Wednesday over challenges to Section 5, a part of the Voting Rights Act that gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities, mostly in the South, with a history of voter discrimination.
Conservative justices on Wednesday suggested it was a constitutionally unnecessary vestige of the civil rights era, CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears reported.
Any changes in voting laws and procedures in all or parts of 16 covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington. That could include something as simple as moving a polling place temporarily across the street.
The provision was reauthorized by Congress in 2006 for another 25 years and officials in Shelby County, Alabama, subsequently filed suit, saying the monitoring was overly burdensome and unwarranted.
But advocates for the provision say it's necessary to protect voting rights.
Speaking Wednesday, Biden was introduced by Rep. John Lewis, who described the vice president as "my friend, my brother, our leader" and a "tireless leader, fighter" who "not only talked the talk but walked the walk."
Biden recalled growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and knowing only one African-American. He then moved to Delaware, where he said it was a fundamentally different environment.
Biden said he became interested in the civil rights movement as a young boy and inspired by some of its leaders, including some standing in the room at the reception.
"As long as we occupy this house, it's your house," he told the audience.
The vice president added that "it always amazes me how my white, liberal friends think they understand the black community." Speaking to the crowd, he said "the work you did also liberated white folks."
Biden, who's traveling to Selma, Alabama, this Sunday to take part in the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, said the most important effort in coming years, he added, will be "making sure the franchise is expanded and not restricted."
The American people have "changed" he said, but added that "we've got a hell of a - heck of a lot to do."
– CNN's Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.