Leahy vows ‘immediate action’ on Voting Rights Act

Leahy vows 'immediate action' on Voting Rights Act
Leahy vows 'immediate action' on Voting Rights Act
Associated Press

With the future of the Voting Rights Act back in the hands of lawmakers, it’s heartening to see that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) wasted no time this morning in vowing action.

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices. I could not disagree more with this result or the majority’s rationale. The Voting Rights Act has been upheld five times by the Supreme Court on prior occasions, and Section 5 was reauthorized and signed into law by a Republican President in 2006 after a thorough and bipartisan process in which Congress overwhelmingly determined that the law was still vital to protecting minority voting rights and that the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions to be covered was still applicable. Several lower court decisions in recent years have found violations of the Voting Rights Act and evidence of intentional discrimination in covered jurisdictions. Despite this sound record, and the weight of history, a narrow majority has decided today to substitute its own judgment over the exhaustive legislative findings of Congress.

As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting.”

Keep in mind, when the Senate last took up the VRA, it passed unanimously in 2006. As Ed Kilgore noted, “We’re about to find out how much GOP has changed” since then.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has, at least so far, not issued a statement responding to the Supreme Court ruling, though it’s worth noting that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the former chairman, said as recently as March that if the decision makes it necessary, “I think we should, if possible, figure out a way to fix the Supreme Court’s objections [to the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act has been, I think, the most effective of all of the civil rights laws. It enfranchised all minorities in the south, and that includes both African Americans and Republicans.”

Asked if Republicans would have the political will to act, Sensenbrenner told Salon at the time, “I’m gonna make them fix it.”

I remain quite skeptical of this, but watch this space.