Dem leaders push voting rights fix

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Top House Democrats on Wednesday raised pressure on Republicans to consider legislation restoring the voting protections shot down by the Supreme Court last year.

Marking the one-year anniversary of the court's Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Democrats urged House GOP leaders to take up the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act this summer, in time for November's midterm elections. 

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At a rally of advocates on the east lawn of the Capitol, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, urged the crowd to be "non-violent militants" in pushing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act (VRA) update.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) characterized the Shelby ruling as "destructive," and invoked the passage of the original 1965 law as impetus for Congress to ensure the same protections are in place in 2014. 

"It changed America, it made us more American, it was long overdue. … What better way to observe that greatness … than to pass the Voting Rights [Amendment] Act?" Pelosi said.

"We have a bipartisan bill; it isn't the bill we would have written … but it does correct the decision of the court," she added. "We're calling upon the Speaker of the House to give us our vote on this bill so that we can protect the votes of millions of people."

She might not want to hold her breath. 

While the VRAA has the backing of several prominent Republicans — including former Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), who helped draft the bill — GOP leaders have been less than enthusiastic about moving the proposal on the floor.

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has shown no interest in examining the proposal in his committee. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has expressed support for the concept but hasn't endorsed the bill, and his stunning primary defeat earlier in the month has tempered much of his influence in the GOP conference.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that, while "conversations are going to continue" in search of a response to the Shelby decision, he has "no idea" if the House will consider legislation this year.

"You'll have to talk to those who are working on it," he told reporters last Thursday.

In its 5-4 Shelby decision, the Supreme Court found that, while Congress has the power to monitor elections for fairness, the VRA formula dictating which states must get federal pre-clearance before altering their voting rules is outdated and therefore invalid. 

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

Sensenbrenner's bill, introduced with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), aims to do just that, creating a new formula based on violations of voter protections spanning the last 15 years. Under the updated bill, the number of states requiring federal pre-clearance would drop from nine to four.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber, held a hearing Wednesday to promote his proposal. 

Foreshadowing a tough road ahead, Leahy lamented that "not a single Senate Republican" has endorsed the measure.