Just weeks after Texas and North Carolina passed controversial and restrictive new voter I.D. laws, Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner is vowing to reverse the recent Supreme Court ruling that made them possible.
“The first thing we have to do is take the monkey wrench that the court threw in it, out of the Voting Rights Act, and then use that monkey wrench to be able to fix it so that it is alive, well, constitutional and impervious to another challenge that will be filed by the usual suspects,” Sensenbrenner said Monday at an RNC event held to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.
Sensenbrenner is a longtime advocate of the Voting Rights Act. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee when the law was reviewed in 2006, the Wisconsin legislator oversaw extensive deliberations which ultimately affirmed the VRA’s continuing necessity–and resulted in a 25-year reauthorization. So when the Supreme Court effectively gutted the VRA in June by voiding the requirement for certain states to get federal “preclearance” before changing their voting laws, Sensenbrenner was displeased.
“Voter discrimination still exists,” he wrote in a June op-ed for USA Today, “and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a victory.”
The effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling has been felt most keenly in Texas and North Carolina, where Republican governors Rick Perry and Pat McCrory, respectively, helped push through controversial new voter I.D. laws. The Justice Department has already sued Texas over its law, showing the Obama administration’s willingness to combat the Court’s ruling, but these measures wouldn’t have been necessary had the Voting Rights Act been upheld in full.
Sensenbrenner isn’t the only Republican to speak out against his own party on voting rights. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized North Carolina’s new law last Thursday at an event in Raleigh where Gov. McCrory was present. Powell said such legislation hurts the GOP brand.
“It immediately turns off a voting block the Republican Party needs,” he said. “These kinds of actions do not build on the base. It just turns people away.”
On Face the Nation Sunday, Powell reiterated the point, arguing that “the procedures that are being put in place to slow the process down and make it likely that fewer Hispanics and African-Americans might vote” will “backfire” on Republicans.
Within the GOP caucus, however, Powell and Sensenbrenner are the exceptions to the rule. RNC chair Reince Priebus’s reaction to Sensenbrenner’s statement on Monday says it all: “I think Jim just made some news.”