CBC, Dems rip lack of voting right protections in Republican agenda

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is teeing off on Republicans over the absence of voting right protections in the GOP’s new congressional agenda.

{mosads}Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he’s “deeply troubled” by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) recent comments that Republicans have no intention of replacing central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) shot down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

“If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand — one in which they are on the wrong side of,” Butterfield said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Goodlatte said congressional action is simply not necessary to improve the VRA because the parts of the law remaining after the Supreme Court ruling are “substantial.”

“To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area,” he said during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

In its 5-4 decision in June 2013, 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John Roberts said that, while Congress has the authority to monitor elections for fairness, the coverage formula is outdated and therefore unconstitutional.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.”

Last January, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the panel, introduced legislation designed to do just that. But the issue was never taken up by House GOP leaders, including Goodlatte.

On Wednesday, the Judiciary chairman suggested discrimination at the polls is largely a problem of the past.

“The court found that the instances of discrimination were very old, for the most part, and there was not a justification for holding those states to a different process and a different status than the rest of the states,” Goodlatte said.

“There are still very, very strong protections in the Voting Rights Act in the area that the Supreme Court ruled on, which is the question of whether or not certain states, there were, I think 11 states, all Southern states, that were required by law to seek pre-clearance of any changes in where polling places are located and other matters like that.”

Democrats don’t buy that argument, with Butterfield charging that congressional inaction leaves “millions” of voters “vulnerable to discriminatory state laws” like voter ID requirements.

“To do nothing sends a terrible message, not only to minorities, but to anyone who believes the right to vote is essential to our democracy and way of life,” he said.

The CBC chairman is hardly alone. Top House Democrats, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Steny Hoyer (Md.), were also quick to condemn Goodlatte’s remarks.

“This ought to be of very serious concern for everyone who cherishes the fundamental right of every American to vote and participate equally in our democracy,” Hoyer said in a statement.

“I urge the chairman — along with the Speaker and the majority leader — to allow the bipartisan process led by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Judiciary ranking member John Conyers to restore the Voting Rights Act’s full protections to move forward unhindered.”

Tags Bob Goodlatte Jim Sensenbrenner Voting Rights Act

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