Stalled Voting Rights Act gets June 25 Senate hearing

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a June 25 hearing on a long-stalled bill to repair the 1965 Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court weakened the landmark civil rights legislation by weakening key provisions last year.

‘It is time for Congress to act,’ Leahy said in a statement Monday. ‘Just as Congress came together 50 years ago to enact the Civil Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans should work together now to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which has always been bipartisan.’

The hearing will occur on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that knocked out parts of the voting rights act and urged Congress to revisit it, saying the law needs updating to account for how times have changed.

A bipartisan, bicameral bill authored by Leahy and Reps. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and John Conyers, D-Mich., attempts to remedy the court’s concerns over the ‘coverage formula,’ the mechanism that decided which states had to get Justice Department approval before making election changes that might disproportionately affect minority voting.

The ruling freed from decades of scrutiny the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as select jurisdictions in California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and South Dakota.

Previous reauthorizations of the voting rights act have been bipartisan affairs. But six months after the court’s ruling the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-held Senate have been slow to deal with this year’s bill.

Several Republicans, especially those from Southern states, endorse the Supreme Court’s action and believe that pre-clearance and its coverage formula are outdated. Several Democrats are balking at the 2014 voting rights remedy bill because it would reduce the number of states under pre-clearance to four – Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – and protect voter photo identification laws implemented by several states.

Many minority lawmakers and civil rights groups view voter ID laws as attempts to suppress the votes of minorities, the young and the elderly, groups that tend to vote Democratic.

‘I have heard some concerns from Democrats in the House who think that this bill, in its current form, is too much of a compromise,’ said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Senate Judiciary Committee member. ‘But I would rather have us make every effort to achieve an enactable bipartisan compromise than to abandon that possibility and instead turn it into a purely partisan exercise that has little chance of becoming law.’

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