Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said this week that he not only intends to push through a revised Voting Rights Act in this Congress, he intends to get it done by the end of 2013.
Sensenbrenner said he wants to fix the law so that it is immune to court challenges.
“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.
Taking the stage after Sensenbrenner, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said, “I think Jim just made some news.”
He did, indeed. Sensenbrenner, a long-time VRA proponent, has repeatedly voiced support for “fixing” the law following the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, but this was the first time he publicly gave himself something of a deadline.
Of course, with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington today, it would have been nice if Congress had made at least some progress on this by now, but that’s probably asking too much.
But the next question is whether Sensenbrenner, while clearly well intentioned, can reach his goal.
As we talked about last week, I remain skeptical. Literally every indication suggests congressional Republicans intend to block efforts to pass a new-and-improved Voting Rights Act. 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 probably going to be waiting a very, very long time.