GOPer amps up voting rights reform push

A powerful House Republican said this week that he's preparing to throw his full weight behind the effort to reinstall the voting protections shot down by the Supreme Court in June.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., former head of the House Judiciary Committee, has been focused on a new surveillance bill in recent weeks. But speaking Tuesday at the Georgetown University Law Center, the 18-term Wisconsin Republican said he intends to shift gears to address the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) deemed by the high court to be unconstitutional.

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"Once I am done with this issue, my next project is to try to constitutionalize those parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down," Sensenbrenner said.

While noting that he no longer heads the Judiciary panel, Sensenbrenner vowed he's "keeping my hands in the pie and attempting to deal with issues that I think are important … to improving the quality of life for all of the people in the United States of America."

At issue is the Supreme Court's summer ruling that found that the VRA's decades-old formula dictating which states must get federal approval to change election laws is outdated and, therefore, unlawful. 

The decision has put congressional supporters of the VRA protections in a tough spot, as enacting a new formula would require bipartisan agreement on a charged topic in a political environment where such cooperation is rare.

Indeed, although the court's conservative majority acknowledged that discrimination at the polls still exists — and all but invited Congress to come up with a new method of identifying the problem areas of the country — GOP leaders have shown little interest in moving legislation. 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has been in talks on the issue with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sensenbrenner and prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But the group has yet to produce even a draft bill. And, in contrast to the others, Cantor has yet to endorse the notion that a legislative fix is even the best response to the Supreme Court ruling.

"We're discussing potential areas where we can find common ground to work together on a bipartisan fix," Cantor spokesman Douglas Heye said earlier this month, hedging on the question of whether Cantor thinks legislation is needed.

— Kate Tummarello contributed.