Sen. Jeff Sessions added his name this week to the list of members of Congress who oppose updating an amendment to the Voting Rights Act.
The Alabama Republican said Wednesday that he opposes the Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 3899) introduced nearly six months ago by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. The bill has 153 co-sponsors, 10 of whom are Republicans.
It arose because of the Supreme Court's 2013 evisceration of Section 4 (and thus Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as renewed most recently in 2006. Those sections provided the formula under which certain states and parts of states were required to obtain "preclearance" for any changes made in voting laws because they had in the past discriminated against minority voters based on race or language.
The amendment rewrites those sections, with specifics about which states are covered and could in the future be covered by preclearance based on whether state or smaller jurisdiction has committed five violations of citizens' rights by passing laws that discriminate based on race or minority language during the most recent 15 years. Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas would be the only states covered right away if the bill becomes law. But if other states added discriminatory voting laws going forward, they would come under pre-clearance rules, too. It wouldn't matter whether the discrimination was directed at people of color or whites.
Sessions told reporter Mary Troyan that he cannot continue to support legislation that singles out some states for special oversight based on their histories of discrimination:
“The Supreme Court only struck down a small part and there remains very powerful provisions ... to stop any form of discriminatory voting actions,” Sessions said in an interview after a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee. “To pass a law in the U.S. Congress that provides penalties only to some states and not to others can only be justified for the most extraordinary circumstances. And the justification no longer exists.”But Sessions' objection is off the wall. Only states with a recent record of multiple discriminatory violations would be given extra scrutiny. And any state in the nation could find its proposed voting law changes covered by pre-clearance if it accumulated enough violations.
There is more about the war on voting below the orange gerrymander.
• Voting Rights Amendment Act likely stalled until next year at least: While Sen. Sessions voiced his opposition to the bill, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, said there is no rush and there are many ideas in addition to Jim Sensenbrenner's approach in the proposed amendment. “We’re going to continue to examine the problem but that’s as far as we’ve got,” Goodlatte said.
The representative's stance puts up another barricade blocking those in Congress who were hoping the amendment would get a hearing this year. But they haven't given up.
“We need to be militants today, non-violent militants. Peaceful militants, but impatient militants. Demanding militants,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. “That America is what it is because Americans have the right, inherent right—‘we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal’—and have the right in our democracy to vote, to express their opinion, to speak out, and to be heard.”• The Senate Judiciary Committee held a two-and-a-half-hour hearing Wednesday on S. 1945 (the Senate version of H.R. 3389, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014) introduced by Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
• Brother of murdered civil rights activist lobbies for Voting Rights Amendment Act. His name is David Goodman. Fifty years ago this week, Klan terrorists murdered his brother Andrew and two other young men. They were part of the "Freedom Summer" project to register voters in the Jim Crow South. Their deaths were among the catalysts that led to the Voting Rights Act being signed by President Johnson almost exactly a year after their bodies were found in a berm where the Klan had left them:
But last year, Goodman notes, a divided Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts threw out a key part of that law.• In Ohio, a state representative leads a "people’s movement" for voting rights. Zachary Roth at MSNBC reports:
"He actually cited my brother's name as an example that back in the day Andy Goodman, James Cheney, Michael Schwerner were murdered and that doesn't happen anymore and oh by the way we have a black president, which I always find a little offensive to lump those together as if to say there's no more problems," Goodman tells NPR.
After taking office in 2010, Democratic Ohio State Rep. Alicia Reece was determined to push back against Republican-sponsored voting restrictions. So Reece did what a lawmaker is supposed to do: She introduced bills, drew up amendments, pushed for hearings and testified before commissions. But with the GOP in complete control of state government beginning January 2011, she didn’t get far.• Federal judge orders Texas to pay $1 million in legal fees in voting rights case: Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell was not happy about the ruling of District Judge Rosemary Collyer. In a serrated opinion about the state's brief saying it shouldn't have to pay any legal fees in the case, Collyer had said it was "a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs."
Reece, 42, grew up immersed in the civil rights movement. She volunteered for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition before she was old enough to vote, and at college in Louisiana she organized her dorm to fight David Duke, a onetime state lawmaker and former Ku Klux Klan leader who was running for governor. So with Democrats shut out in Columbus, and no end in sight to GOP efforts to restrict access to the ballot, Reece decided to go back to her roots.
“I tried to work on the inside,” Reece, 42, explained on a recent Saturday over lunch at Pleasant Ridge Chili—the self-proclaimed inventor of gravy cheese fries. “Now, I had to go outside, and get organizing a people’s movement.”
That’s how Reece later found herself at a Cincinnati strip mall barbershop, urging customers, staff—even the guy who stopped by selling iced tea—to sign a petition to get the Voters Bill of Rights (VBOR) on the ballot this fall. The initiative would permanently enshrine voting rights into Ohio’s constitution.
In 2012, a three-judge panel ruled against Texas because it had failed to meet the non-discriminatory requirement of the Voting Rights Act in drawing up a redistricting plan. State officials appealed, but before the case was heard, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the section of the act that required several states, including Texas, to get any changes in voting or election laws approved in advance by the Department of Justice. The million dollars that Collyer awarded will go to the organizations that had challenged the redistricting plans and succeeded in court before the relevant section of the Voting Rights Act was tossed out.