Congressional Democrats are already setting wheels in motion to fix the damage the Court did to the Voting Rights Act, but they’re prepared for a long and complex haul.
Because Democrats only control one chamber of Congress, they’re effectively confined to beginning the process in the Senate, which is why early statements from Senate Dems refer to action they plan to take, while House Dems are stuck pressing Republicans to take the issue seriously.
But that’s enough to sketch out a roadmap by which they might successfully re-establish pre-clearance standards under Voting Rights Act.
“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,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement after the decision.
The initial hearings will begin after Congress returns from Fourth of July recess. But because of the complicated legal nature of the issue, a legislative fix will require a great deal of groundwork and careful drafting to assure it doesn’t run exceed Constitutional limits.
“I would like to see something called — well, I haven’t even discussed this with my caucus, but — the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would address the concerns that the Court put in its decision about Section 4,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday. “It’s really a step backward and it’s not a reflection of what is happening in our country in some of these places. And when we put that bill together, when it was passed last time, it passed overwhelming, overwhelming 98 to nothing in the Senate and 390-something to almost nothing in the House. And it was bipartisan and we came to terms on it, in a way that we were all jubilant about the passage of it, Democrats and Republicans alike.”
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a provision that requires sixteen states with a history of voter suppression and racial discrimination to clear any proposed changes in voting laws with the Justice Department before they can go into effect. It is being challenged in the US Supreme Court, and today was the first day oral arguments were heard, and it wasn’t pretty. Justice Antonin Scalia unintentionally made the case for why Section 5 is still very much needed:
The Voting Rights Act took a beating from conservative justices Wednesday during oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
At issue is the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 law, which requires state and local governments with a history of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that affect voting with the Justice Department or a federal court.
Oral arguments showed a sharp divide along ideological lines and suggested that the conservative majority is strongly inclined to overturn Section 5 of the half-century-old law.
Justice Antonin Scalia attributed the continued congressional reauthorization to the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” and suggested that it will be renewed endlessly because members of Congress would never let it lapse for fear for political repercussions.
“I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act,” Scalia said. “They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful — the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”
Here are Scalia’s full remarks, via the Daily Kos
JUSTICE SCALIA: …This Court doesn’t like to get involved in — in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be left — left to Congress.
The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.
Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it.
And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it.
That’s the — that’s the concern that those of us who — who have some questions about this statute have. It’s — it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.
Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?
Hat tip - Crooks and Liars
Chris Hayes leaves the rest of the news media in the dust on just about any issue, and this story is no exception. While he does mention the Bush U.S. attorney purge, he doesn’t detail what happened - namely, that they only purged the DoJ ranks of U.S. attorneys who didn’t understand that they were supposed to fabricate cases of voter fraud if, as was likely, they couldn’t actually find any - and that many of those who made the ideological cut are still around:
In closing arguments this Friday, attorneys for the state of Texas argued that the state should be released once and for all from the Justice Department’s supervision of its voting process… which is currently authorized by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The case is widely expected to end up before the Supreme Court, where it won’t be surprising if we find the five Republican appointees declaring the Voting Rights Act is no longer justified and thus gutted or entirely null.