Patching the Voting Rights Act
by Tom Sullivan
The hole the Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling blew in the Voting Rights Act will get patched this session if Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Georgia's Congressman John Lewis have anything to say about it. They plan to introduce legislation today to repair the damage. Ari Berman has this scoop at The Nation:
... The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 would compel states with a well-documented history of recent voting discrimination to clear future voting changes with the federal government, require federal approval for voter ID laws, and outlaw new efforts to suppress the growing minority vote.
According to the Washington Post:
The bill is the latest in what has been an ongoing effort to restore the preclearence provision of the Voting Rights Act, which required many southern states to have any change to voting laws cleared by federal officials. The Supreme Court, in its 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, tossed the formula used to determine which states need preclearence, effectively ending the federal government's role as a monitor to state voting changes until a new formula is approved by Congress.
A new federal preclearance regime for changes to election procedures or laws would apply initially to New York, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. A previous bill filed after the Shelby ruling received neither a hearing nor a vote from Republican leaders.
Rick Hasen sees possible constitutional issues with the bill, but notes approvingly that this legislation is not the compromise the earlier Voting Rights Amendment Act was. The new bill includes voter ID laws in its scope of violations. Half the states have adopted measures making it harder to vote since 2011.
The legislation faces an uphill road in Congress. Few Republicans were willing to support the more modest VRAA, even after the historic 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. Leahy could not find a GOP co-sponsor in the Senate for the old bill or the new one. That’s a sad development, given that the VRA has always had strong bipartisan support, and the 2006 reauthorization of the law was approved 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate and signed by George W. Bush. “A decision has been made within the Republican Party that we’re not going to do anything,” Leahy said.
Even if the law requiring preclearance for future voting restrictions were to pass, a lot of damage has already been done by the bills passed in the wake of Shelby. Measures put in place by the states since 2011 are a conservative, rearguard effort against the future as well as an effort to undo the past. Changing demographics? Can't win under the current rules? Rewrite the rules. And not just for federal elections. Having lost a string of state Supreme Court elections in 2014, North Carolina Republicans have since changed those rules in what the director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections calls "merely the latest attempt to change voting rules to conservative benefit."Sen. Elizabeth Warren believes the economy is rigged. GOP-controlled legislatures are working hard to ensure elections are too.