Black Caucus targets powerful Republican in push for voting rights fix

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The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is pushing House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to take up legislation restoring the voting rights protections shot down by the Supreme Court last year.

Democratic leaders and others urging consideration of the bipartisan bill to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) have previously focused their pressure campaign on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

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But with Boehner showing little interest and Cantor soon to exit leadership after last week's primary loss, CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) switched gears Wednesday and turned the pressure directly on Goodlatte, whose panel has jurisdiction over the issue.

"Voter discrimination is real in America," Fudge told reporters after a meeting of the Democratic Caucus in the Capitol. "We have a voting rights bill that has been sitting in this House for months and months. It is being held up by Chairman Goodlatte.

“Mr. Goodlatte, help us fulfill the promise of America and bring this bill to the floor," she said.

Goodlatte responded Wednesday with a brief statement in which he vowed to protect voting rights, but declined to reveal either his position on the bill or whether he intends to consider it this year.

"I fully support protecting the voting rights of all Americans," he said in an email. "As Congress determines whether additional steps are needed to protect those rights, I will carefully consider legislative proposals addressing the issue."

Among GOP leaders, Cantor has shown the most interest in moving the VRA update proposal this year. The Virginia Republican has been in talks with civil rights groups and lawmakers in both parties – including prominent members of the Black Caucus – in search of a compromise.

Yet a growing number of Democrats have charged that Cantor, all along, only gave lip service to legislation he had never endorsed and never intended to move on the floor.

"I never had any confidence that Mr. Cantor was going to match deeds with his words in the first place," Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and a leading CBC member, said Wednesday. "There was never indication that he would."

Clyburn said Cantor's fall shouldn't affect the fate of the legislation.

"I really believe all this rests on the chair of the committee," Clyburn said.

In its 5-4 decision last June, the Supreme Court struck down the VRA's decades-old coverage formula, which had required certain states to get federal approval before changing election rules. The law had applied on a blanket basis to nine states – most of them in the South – with documented histories of racial discrimination.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that while Congress has the authority to monitor elections for fairness, the coverage formula is outdated and therefore unconstitutional.

Roberts invited Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."

In January, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the panel, introduced legislation designed to do just that.

Under their bill, states with five violations of constitutional voting protections or federal voting laws over the last 15 years would be forced to get pre-clearance from Washington before altering their election procedures.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber. Leahy's panel is scheduled to examine that bill on June 25, which marks the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that launched the debate.

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