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Senators Disagree on Whether Voting Rights Act Should Be Fixed

Grassley says legislation under consideration "seems to create only a fig leaf of protection for legitimate voter ID laws."

Rodrigo Sermeño


July 8, 2014 - 11:45 pm
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WASHINGTON – Republicans and Democrats continue to disagree sharply on whether a law to protect the voting rights of minorities is still needed, one year after a Supreme Court landmark decision.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee debated legislation that would update a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The hearing took place on June 25, a year after the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby County v. Holder that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court ruled last June that the formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act used to define which areas the Justice Department would monitor for discrimination was outdated and Congress could come up with a new one. Section 5 of the act had required certain states and areas with a history of racial bias in voting to submit any election law changes to the federal government for approval, also known as preclearance, before they went into effect.

The court’s decision did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4, no jurisdiction will be subject to the preclearance unless Congress passes a new bill for determining which states should be covered.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation in January that would mandate federal preclearance for states with documented voting rights violations in the previous 15 years. If passed, four states would fall under federal oversight for their voting laws – Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

“I was hopeful that Senate Republicans would join me in supporting this important bill,” Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during the hearing. “Despite repeated efforts, I am troubled to report that as of this hearing, not a single Senate Republican has stepped up to the plate.”

Section 5 was originally scheduled to expire in five years, but Congress has repeatedly extended it since the 1970s. When the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 2006, no Republican senators voted against it. In 2014, however, no Republican senators have co-sponsored the amendment to update it.

“From its inception through several reauthorizations the Voting Rights Act has always been a bipartisan, bilateral effort,” Leahy said. “And it would be a travesty if it became partisan for the very first time in this nation’s history.”

Democrats also complained about the “lack of willingness” to move forward with legislation shown by House Republicans.

The House version of the bill has 10 Republican co-sponsors led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), whose committee would be in charge of moving the bill, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that there was no real urgency to address the changes made by the Supreme Court.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the Voting Rights Acts works well enough without Section 4. He said the court’s decision was justified because circumstances have vastly changed since 1965.

“All it did was strike down a formula almost 50 years old,” Grassley said of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Grassley noted that other sections of the Voting Rights Act still stand and are currently being enforced in several states.

“No one should doubt that voter discrimination is less widespread than it was in the 1960s. The current Voting Rights Act is strongly enforced and is protecting the rights of all Americans to vote,” he said.

Abigail Thernstrom, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Instiute, called Section 4 “a period piece” because its coverage formula rested on 1972 voter participation data and said that other sections of the act provide “ample protection against electoral discrimination.”

Michael Carvin, a Washington-based attorney, acknowledged that race bias in voting still exists. But he argued that Section 2, which allows victims of discrimination to sue after the fact, is “a very effective remedy for any form of unconstitutional discrimination.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) noted that his state has a record for electing more African-Americans and Hispanics for office than almost any other state and that the turnout numbers during the 2012 election for these two communities in Texas was better than in other states. He said the turnout was proof that Texas, along with many other southern states with a history of racial discrimination, has evolved.

“What justifies singling out a select number of states for some sort of special treatment?” Cruz asked.

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All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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Any renewal of the VRA should include a Universal Registration requirement, where everyone who wishes to register, or maintain their registration, should be required to present ID and take the knowledge test demanded of new citizens - those Naturalized within the previous five (5) years would be waived from re-taking the test.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
“It shows the determination of minority voters to turn out and participate despite the obstacles,” Ifill said. “It should inspire Congress to pass this bill.”

Huh? More minotities are voting, which only proves we need new laws to make it easier for minorities to vote? Would someone please explain the logic in that?

Oh wait... we're talking progressive Democrats here. There's no room for logic under their tent.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
We're talking with a Progressive here - logic is not within their repertoire.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
By the way... what about those obstacles the Black Panthers threw in the way of white voters back on '08? When is THAT going to be addressed?

Yea. That's what I thought.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
You got skin in the game and pay taxes = you can vote.... if you don't work and don't pay taxes - what gives you the RIGHT to dictate where somebody else's money goes to?

33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe that in the early days of the republic voting was limited to free (close to white) men who were property owners. Your idea would make it a lot harder for voters with no skin in the game to vote for 'more free stuff.'

HOWEVER some of our wiser voters are retired, living only (or mostly) on Social Security. I'm not sure you want to disenfranchise them.

None of this, of course has any chance of happening now. But it's interesting to think about anyway.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
As expected, Democrat Senators are singling out red states for special scrutiny. If there were any blue states on the list, Senator Leahy would be squealing. And why should a state be suspect if it had voting problems up to 15 years ago? Senator Grassley is right; this legislation is unneeded.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
If only the media had covered the black thugs at the democratic primary polls when the Messiah beat out Hilliary for the big D nomination in 2008. My liberal friends were ashamed to be ashamed. The media could have helped them with their feelings.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
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