Posted by: JanF | February 13, 2015

Why can’t we do this?

From the Brennan Center for Justice: Bipartisan Bill Introduced: Congress Must Restore Voting Rights Act

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, members of Congress [on Wednesday, February 11th] reintroduced a bipartisan bill to strengthen and restore the law’s core protection, which the U.S. Supreme Court gutted in 2013.

The measure is sponsored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and others. The bill was also introduced last year, but the Senate held just one hearing on the legislation, and the House refused to hold a hearing.

“Fifty years ago, tragedy in the streets of Selma galvanized our nation to pass the Voting Rights Act and bring equality to the ballot box,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “Today, that core protection is in tatters and discrimination continues to tarnish our elections. America was founded on the principle that we are all ‘created equal.’ To fulfill that promise, we need an election system that works well for everyone, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination against anyone. We urge Congress to quickly pass this bill and ensure Americans have strong voting protections in time for the 2016 election.”

Here are the key provisions:

The Voting Rights Amendment Act would, among other changes:

– Require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated Voting Rights Act violations to pre-clear election law changes.
– Expand the current “bail-in” procedures, which allow courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance.
– Create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes.
– Enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory election measures before they can harm citizens.
– Allow federal observers to monitor elections to ensure compliance with laws protecting the rights of Americans who speak limited English.

The VRA has been continually reauthorized since it was passed in 1965 and has always had bipartisan support. The most recent reauthorization, in 2006, was with a Republican Congress and a Republican president. Voting rights should not be a partisan issue: the right to choose our government is the most basic right in a democracy.

So why can’t we do this?

Because the Republican Congress is controlled by the teaparty with its scorched earth politics of exclusion. Their hold on power depends on disenfranchising those who disagree with them because their ideas are repulsive to the majority of Americans.

If there are any Republicans who still care about small “d” democracy, they should pressure their leadership to bring this bill to the House floor for a vote, get it passed and then send it to the Senate for a vote.

We can do it and we must.

More on the Brennan Center for Justice

The Brennan Center for Justice is named after Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., a liberal justice who was on the court for 34 years. From their web page:

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. We work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from ending mass incarceration to preserving Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. Part think tank, part advocacy group, part cutting-edge communications hub, we start with rigorous research. We craft innovative policies. And we fight for them — in Congress and the states, the courts, and in the court of public opinion.

Last June, the Center wrote a report on the impact of the Shelby County v Holder ruling:

Before the Shelby County decision, the Brennan Center examined the potential consequences of a ruling against the preclearance process in If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications. In just the year since Shelby County, most of the feared consequences have come to pass — including attempts to: revive voting changes that were blocked as discriminatory, move forward with voting changes previously deterred, and implement new discriminatory voting restrictions.

The decision has had three major impacts:

– Section 5 no longer blocks or deters discriminatory voting changes, as it did for decades and right up until the Court’s decision.
– Challenging discriminatory laws and practices is now more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
– The public now lacks critical information about new voting laws that Section 5 once mandated be disclosed prior to implementation.

This paper summarizes some of the stories behind these facts, and tracks the voting changes that have been implemented in the states and other jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia in their entirety; and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.



  1. Justice Brennan was nominated to the court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower … back when where were reasonable Republicans, Republicans who would be instrumental in passing the Voting Rights Act 9 years after he joined the court.

    Fifty years later, the good works done by the Lincoln Republicans are being undone by the Reagan Republicans who built their party on the Southern Strategy of ginning up racial animus in order to win elections.

    If there aren’t enough Republicans left who care about the legacy of Lincoln and the courage of the northern Republicans voting in 1965 with the LBJ Democrats to protect and expand the franchise, their party will be swept away in the dustbin of history and deservedly so.


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