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Taking the First Step Toward Repairing the Voting Rights Act

Taking the First Step Toward Repairing the Voting Rights Act

This week, both the Senate and House of Representatives held hearings to discuss the future of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of one of its key enforcement mechanisms, erasing fundamental protections against racial discrimination in voting that have worked to protect our democracy for over 40 years. The Court ruled unconstitutional Section 4 of the landmark law. Section 4 provided the formula that determined the states and jurisdictions where changes in election law required preclearance by a federal court or the Department of Justice due to their past discrimination.

In its decision, the Supreme Court left open a path for Congress to rework and restore this critical piece of civil rights legislation. This week, Congress got to work holding hearings in both chambers and beginning to discuss possible solutions and the path forward. While concrete proposals will not be drafted until later this year, in holding hearings this week, both branches of the legislature showed that the Voting Rights Act could continue to be an integral part in preventing voter discrimination.

In Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who led the reauthorization efforts in 1982 and 2006, reaffirmed his commitment to the Voting Rights Act, calling for free, fair and accessible elections for all Americans. Sensenbrenner also recalled President Ronald Reagan calling the right to vote the ‘crown jewel of our liberties’ as he supported the 1982 reauthorization of the VRA. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who as a civil rights activist helped lead the fight for the VRA, told of the injuries he sustained while fighting for voting rights in the South in the 1960s. Later witnesses declared updating the Voting Rights Act to be a non-partisan issue and praised the voter registration efforts of the League of Women Voters. They also underscored the fact that discrimination in voting continues to occur and that fixing the VRA is critical to continuing to prevent discriminatory laws from taking hold in municipalities and states across the country.

While Thursday’s hearing in the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice had more witnesses and members of Congress who were skeptical of the need to fix the VRA, the need to prevent discrimination in voting was still acknowledged. Instead of proposing a new enforcement mechanism, some suggested that the VRA would continue to prevent voter discrimination through Section 2. While Section 2 is an important enforcement mechanism in current law, it is by no means a replacement for repairing the damage done by the Supreme Court’s decision. Section 2 enforcement comes after a discriminatory law goes into effect, whereas the preclearance process can prevent the implementation of discriminatory laws before any voters are discriminated against and their votes suppressed.

The preclearance process outlined in Section 5, now effectively halted until Congress acts, has proven to be the least costly, and least damaging, mechanism for preventing racial and language discrimination in voting. If we do not repair this process, voting rights advocates would be battling a variety of attacks not only at the state level, but also in local and county jurisdictions as new election laws pop up. Simply tracking these changes at the local and county level, let alone taking action against harmful changes, would prove a daunting task to advocates and elections officials alike. Preclearance has proven to be essential to stopping discrimination at the polls time and time again; members from both sides of the aisle acknowledged that during the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA when more than 15,000 pages of evidence were amassed showing discriminatory elections practices. Without an operable Section 4 and 5, that could clearly grow exponentially.

It is clear that the forms of discrimination have changed since 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed. Discrimination today is more subtle even while it is systemic and institutionalized. An updated VRA will need to take this into account. Yet, it was promising to hear members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree it remains a problem and discuss ways to combat it. This will surely be a complicated process, yet we are hopeful that it is one where Congress will be able to come together to protect our democracy and the right to vote.

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Photo credit: League of Women Voters

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97 comments

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9:52PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

Thank you for a very informative article and thanks to the over 95 members who commented on this posting. I enjoyed reading most of them.

5:57PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Noted.

5:21AM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

Thank you Care2 Causes Editors, for Sharing this!

12:14AM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

Thank you for the article and all of the over 90 comments from the care 2 members. I signed the petition and I hope the Attorney General can get these laws back to where they need to be before the 2014 elections, because we Americans need to make big changes in the house and senate.... and we need to run the puppet master grover norquist and the money baggers karl rove, and the koch bros. out of washington for good.....period.

7:44PM PDT on Jul 26, 2013

what is justice? what is there to vote for if there is no justice?

8:04PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Just realized that a sentence could be read the wrong way, if the emphasis wasn't obvious, so re-organized the sentence to try to eliminate potential confusion.

And ask yourself why Clarence Thomas hasn't been removed as a Supreme Court judge, with his judgments potentially affected, due to this ongoing conflict of interest with the required ability for true judicial impartiality.

7:56PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

(continued)


... A certain amount of secrecy cloaks Groundswell's efforts. Though members have been encouraged to zap out tweets with a #GSW hashtag, a message circulated to members of its Google group noted that the role of certain advocates should be kept "off of the Google group for OPSEC [operational security] reasons." This "will avoid any potential for bad press for someone if a communication item is leaked," the message explained. ...

... Critics have contended that Thomas' work as a lobbyist opposing Obamacare posed a conflict of interest for her husband, who would rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform initiative. (Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court minority that favored striking down the law.) And Common Cause has maintained that Justice Thomas had a conflict of interest when he participated in the Citizens United case because his wife at the time was running a conservative nonprofit fighting the "tyranny" of President Barack Obama that would benefit from removing limits on such groups' spending and fundraising. With her involvement in Groundswell—which zeroes in on contentious issues that come before the high court, including voting rights, abortion, and gay marriage—Ginni Thomas continues to be intricately associated with matters on which her husband may have to render a decision. Ginni Thomas did not respond to requests for comment. ...

7:54PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

DO please go to source and read this in full, long or not?

And ask yourself why Clarence Thomas hasn't been removed as a Supreme Court judge with this ongoing conflict of interest with judicial impartiality potentially affecting his judgments?

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group-ginni-thomas


Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a "30 Front War"
Ginni Thomas, Allen West, and a crew of conservative activists and journalists have formed a hush-hush coalition to battle progressives—and Karl Rove.

—By David Corn
| Thu Jul. 25, 2013

Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington—including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner—has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation," according to documents obtained by Mother Jones. ...

... A certain amount of secrecy cloaks Groundswell's efforts. Though members have been encouraged to zap out tweets with a #GSW hashtag, a message circulated to members of its Google group noted that the role of certain advocates should be kept "off of the Google group for OPSEC [operational security] reasons." This "will avoid any potential for bad press for someone if a

5:40PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

We must be diligent and keep the pressure up to ensure viting rights for everyone. Otherwise, they will skew things so that the least powerful and the minorities in this country will become disenfranchised. Some states in the south is already reverting to old Jim Crow ways. We CANNOT let this happen. BE HEARD NOW.

1:38AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

noted

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