NationNation Now

Senators spar over the need for new voting rights legislation

Laws and LegislationPoliticsMinority GroupsElectionsCourts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemRepublican Party
Senators argue bitterly about the need for a new law to protect the voting rights of minorities
Eric Holder: Last year's court decision on voting rights was 'deeply flawed'

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate argued bitterly Wednesday about the need for a new law to protect the voting rights of minorities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on proposed legislation to resuscitate a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago.

The court invalidated the system whereby most Southern states were required to clear changes to their voting laws in advance with the Justice Department. The new bill would attempt to get around the court’s objections by creating a new system in which any state with more than five voting rights violations in the previous 15 years would have to seek “pre-clearance.”

Currently only Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana would be covered, which provoked outrage from Texas’ two senators, who both sit on the committee.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked why only four states would be covered, and not others such as Minnesota, which is represented on the committee by two Democrats.

“Every state is covered by this if they violate the law five times in 15 years,” replied Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn).

The witnesses who testified were also divided.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that the Voting Rights Act was “universally recognized as the most successful piece of legislation to emerge from the civil rights movement” but that as a result of the Supreme Court decision, “minority voters have been left without critically needed voting protections for an entire year.”

But conservative scholar Abigail Thernstrom of the American Enterprise Institute said the pre-clearance section of the act had become “a period piece” and that other sections allowing suits to be filed after violations occur “provide ample protection.”

The legislation, though described by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) as being bipartisan, has no Republican co-sponsors in the Senate and is unlikely to be brought up for a vote by the GOP leadership in the House, making its chances of passage in  either chamber difficult.

Whereas past discussions of voting rights focused on poll taxes and racially motivated gerrymandering, much of the discussion Wednesday was about new voter identification requirements passed in many states controlled by Republicans as well as moves to scale back early voting.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the committee, said the legislation was really a “back-door mechanism” to undo such laws.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), said such laws were all about voter suppression, particularly of minority voters.

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., whose strict enforcement of voting rights laws has provoked criticism from Republicans, issued a statement Tuesday saying the Supreme Court ruling a year ago “was a deeply flawed decision” that “effectively invalidated a cornerstone of American civil rights law.” He called on Congress to approve the new legislation.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Laws and LegislationPoliticsMinority GroupsElectionsCourts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemRepublican Party
  • White House intruder arrested after entering front doors
    White House intruder arrested after entering front doors

    An intruder scaled a White House fence and made it all the way into the building Friday evening before he was caught and wrestled to the ground by security officers, the Secret Service said. President Obama and his family had already left for Camp David when the incident occurred.

  • Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past
    Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past

    Don Spirit, a Florida grandfather who fatally shot his daughter Sarah Lorraine Spirit and six grandchildren before killing himself, had a long history of domestic violence — at one point pushing his pregnant daughter against a refrigerator and assaulting and threatening his former...

  • Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?
    Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?

    In Texas, where the governor once urged the public to pray for rain, this week’s torrential storms might finally be a sign of lasting relief for the state plagued by years of drought. Or maybe not.

  • For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war
    For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war

    Lawmakers' votes this week on whether or not to train and equip Syrian opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State were arguably the most consequential after nearly two years in which Congress is likely to set a new low for productivity.

  • Egyptian militant admits links to 1998 U.S. embassy bombings

    A longtime Egyptian militant with ties to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden admitted in federal court Friday that he had links to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, a surprise guilty plea that the judge sharply questioned because it reduces his prison time from a potential life sentence to...

  • Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels
    Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels

    What was supposed to be a no-drama final session of Congress before the campaign season turned into anything but as President Obama's new strategy to combat the threat from Islamic State resulted in a wrenching vote that is likely to reverberate through the midterm election and...

Comments
Loading