Shortly after the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act, Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona told Politico that the best way to handle the ruling was to keep a low profile.
“I don’t think we can be intimidated though by the unmitigated carelessness with which the other side casts aspersions of racism in our direction all the time when all we’re trying to do is truly speak up for the indigenous equality of every human being.”
But keeping a low profile may be difficult for Franks, who chairs the subcommittee tasked with crafting the new voting legislation. In a 2010 interview, Franks claimed that African-Americans were better off under slavery than today because more black children are aborted now than in that era.
“Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery. And I think, What does it take to get us to wake up?” Franks said in the video interview.
Franks regards abortion as a much more important civil rights issue than preserving the Voting Rights Act. Last year he introduced a bill banning race and gender-selective abortion, a proposal based on the peculiar premise that black women are racist against their own potential offspring.
Franks also has a history of opposition to the Voting Rights Act, in 2006 he was one of 33 Republicans who voted against reauthorization the act—which passed Congress overwhelmingly and was signed by President George W. Bush. Franks also joined the effort led by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King to strip out the part of the bill that protects the right to vote for Americans who aren’t fluent in English by, for example, ensuring access to bilingual ballots.
“My desire is to see everyone in this country, every citizen, to have equal access to voting and to the polls,” Franks said at the time. “I believe that the best way to provide a consistent, fair and just system is to have the voting materials and ballots printed in a common language, which in America should be English.” Equal rights! That is, for all American citizens who speak fluent English.
“It defies common sense to be in a state that has a significant population of citizens who speak Spanish, and you don’t want them to be protected, to participate in our democracy,” says Judith Brown-Dians of the Advancement Project, a voting rights group, of Franks’ English-only preference. Well, not if you’re not so keen on those people voting.
The Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act’s Section 4 coverage formula, which determines which states must submit their election law changes in advance to the Justice Department for approval, a process called “preclearance.” As Politico reported, Franks was one of the few Republicans in Congress who actually went out of his way to publicly praise the decision.
Though Republicans had criticized Section 4’s formula as outdated, research Congress looked at during reauthorization showed that states covered by the Section 4 formula were more likely than others to pass discriminatory voting practices, many Republicans, including those on the high court, feel that the formula is unfair to the South and punishes the region for the past. After the ruling, states formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement immediately began instituting restrictive voting laws. Advocates see it as urgent to resurrect the bipartisan alliance that supported reauthorization of the law just seven years ago.
“What we’re looking at now is an amendment to the Voting Rights Act that would root out race, language and national origin discrimination, and revive the important principles of Section 5 trough a new formula,” says Deborah Vagins of the ACLU. “We’re still hashing out those ideas, after these hearings we want to talk with members who are interested in a bipartisan solution.”
If Franks is right that deep down most Republicans oppose the Voting Rights Act, it would mean the party has changed so much since 2006 that a bipartisan solution will be hard to find.