Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are seeking to strengthen the Voting Rights Act by making it easier for judges to expand voter protections across the country in response to individual discrimination lawsuits. The effort goes beyond crafting a broad definition of which voters should get extra protection based on regional records of racial discrimination. The move is an indication that some Democrats are hoping to use last month’s Supreme Court decision scrapping the law’s Section 4 coverage formula as an opportunity to bolster other provisions of the landmark civil rights legislation that were left intact by the ruling. Specifically, the lawmakers are taking a close look at revising Section 3, which empowers the court to apply Section 5’s federal “preclearance” requirements to jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against minority voters.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who’s leading the charge, wants to lower the bar so that judges can apply the extra layer of scrutiny in cases where election rules are found to have a discriminating effect.
Butterfield says the burden of proving “intentional” prejudice makes it too difficult to extend the federal protections, even in lawsuits where discrimination against minority voters is discovered.
“I want to lower the standard of proof from intentional discrimination, which is hard to prove, to discriminatory result,” Butterfield, a former voting rights attorney, said last week.
“So if the court were to find that [a jurisdiction] had an election system that had a discriminatory result to minority citizens, then that would be sufficient to trigger Section 3, which would then trigger Section 5.”
Along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Butterfield is leading a CBC task force charged with outlining legislative recommendations for amending the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.