As we discussed yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder is challenging new voting restrictions imposed by Texas Republicans, hoping to use the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act to protect Texans’ access to the ballot box. GOP officials, not surprisingly, weren’t pleased with the move, but there was one reaction in particular that I found interesting.
But Mr. Holder’s moves this week could endanger that effort, said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who led the latest reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.
“The lawsuit would make it much more difficult to pass a bipartisan fix to restore the heart of the VRA that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
He said he had spoken with Mr. Holder and asked him to withdraw the lawsuit.
It’s worth noting for context that Sensenbrenner may be a conservative Republican, but he’s also earned a reputation as a long-time supporter of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, among GOP lawmakers, it’s probably fair to say the Wisconsin Republican is the VRA’s most reliable ally. When Sensenbrenner says he’s working on a legislative fix in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, I’m inclined to believe him.
That said, for Holder to back off now would be crazy.
Look, I don’t blame Sensenbrenner for this, but literally every indication suggests congressional Republicans intend to block efforts to pass a new-and-improved Voting Rights Act. The Attorney General has a simple calculation to make: protect Americans against discriminatory voter-suppression tactics or wait for the House GOP to work in a bipartisan fashion on voting rights.
Can anyone seriously blame Holder for preferring the former to the latter? It seems far more realistic for the A.G. to turn Sensenbrenner’s request around and say, “When Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, I’ll stop filing these lawsuits, not the other way around.”
Remember this story from July?
If House Republicans are interested in patching the Voting Rights Act, they aren’t showing it.
“Historically I fully understand why they addressed the situations they did,” Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who chairs the House judiciary subcommittee that would handle new voting rights legislation, said to reporters after the hearing. “I am just of the opinion today that we should do as the court said and that is to not focus on punishing the past but on building a better future.”
As we talked about at the time, most of the Republican members of the panel apparently didn’t think the hearing was especially important – which is to say, they didn’t show up – and the witnesses GOP lawmakers called reinforced fears that the party simply isn’t interested in a constructive debate.
The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, for example, was called by Republicans to offer his “expert” testimony on voting rights, despite the fact that von Spakovsky is best known for the loathsome voter-suppression tactics he championed during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department. If this is the guy GOP lawmakers are turning to for guidance, the future of the Voting Rights Act is bleak.
Indeed, von Spakovsky assured the Judiciary Committee panel that the “the systematic, widespread discrimination against blacks has long since disappeared” – a claim we know to be ridiculously untrue.
Sensenbrenner’s worthwhile efforts notwithstanding, those waiting for House Republicans to do the right thing on voting rights are going to be waiting a very, very long time.