House Republicans Say the Shrunken Voting Rights Act Is Probably OK As Is

Section 5 wasn’t kept alive, but Republicans say Sections 2 and 3 oughta serve just fine.

Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images

If you were expecting the Republican-run House of Representatives to hurry on a patch to the Voting Rights Act, what’s wrong with you? The Judiciary Committee’s Constitution subcommittee met today to talk this over, and the consensus was that the leftover parts of the VRA would work out all right.

“Section 2 applies nationwide and prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or the ability to speak English,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the larger committee. “Section 2 is enforced through federal lawsuits just like other federal civil rights laws, and the United States and civil rights organizations have brought many cases to enforce the guarantees of Section 2 in court, and they may do so in the future.” Oh, and “Section 3 authorizes federal courts to impose preclearance requirements on states and political subdivisions that have enacted intentionally discriminatory voting procedures in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”

The gist, repeated by Republican witnesses (including J. Christian Adams, who noted the DoJ’s failure to pursue the New Black Panther case), was that pre-clearance for states and districts that had needed it in 1965 was no longer needed. Some early Republican rumblings about a new version of pre-clearance that would affect all 50 states petered out before this hearing even started.

UPDATE: On Twitter, Adams says that this item “ignores Holder DOJ hasn’t pursued a single Section 2 case, but brings up Black Panthers when no one did.” I was just reading the end of his prepared testimony.

Perhaps the most important provision of the Voting Rights Act is Section 11, and it remains in full force and effect after Shelby. Section 11(b) is the provision of the law which prohibits intimidation, threats or coercion directed toward voters, or those aiding voters. The attempt to intimidate, threaten or coerce a voter is also actionable. This provision is the most basic part of the law passed in 1965. Simply, Americans are free to vote without threats of violence. The last Section 11(b) case brought by the Justice Department was filed January 7, 2009. It was United States v. New Black Panther Party, et al.

Adams’s point, which Republicans are endorsing, is that a law written to respond to the racism of 1965 (and updated in 2006, but that’s a sidebar) was being misused by Obama’s DOJ. His other point is that the DOJ should respond to actual voter discrimination that can be seen in daylight, not pre-emptively judge what may or may not, in their eyes, amount to discrimination against non-white voters.