I vividly remember a road trip I took as a young man with my father to the Deep South. When we stopped at gas stations, I watched out the window of our vehicle as black attendants pumped gas while white station owners collected the money. I saw first-hand the separation of water fountains and restroom facilities and wondered how communities could allow this practice to continue. Later, as a representative in the Wisconsin Legislature, I again saw racial injustice up close. While attending events and spending time in parts of Milwaukee’s majority black neighborhoods, I listened to constituents as they described unnecessary obstructions that prohibited them from voting. Their personal stories were the inspiration behind my work to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. Ensuring that every eligible American voter has the ability to cast his or her ballot without intimidation, preclusion and prejudice is a constitutional right. Since my earliest days in Congress, I have fought to protect it.
In 1982, I supported the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I played an instrumental role in the Act’s 2006 reauthorization. However, it was the 2006 reauthorization that was put before the United States Supreme Court for consideration and ultimately struck down.
The court declared that voter discrimination was no longer a problem, and removed language designed to stop discrimination before it mars an election but let stand provisions that allow lawsuits after a discriminatory law takes effect. Unfortunately, there is no way to remedy injustice at the polls after an election, leaving disenfranchised voters with few options.