The Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 legislation that protects against racially discriminatory voting practices, had long received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, including for the last renewal of its temporary provisions in 2006. But at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, early discussions on how to respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down Section 4 of the law saw Democrats and Republicans mostly divided over the provision’s utility and future. While several Democrats chided the Supreme Court for undermining the country’s most effective protection against voting discrimination, even as the court acknowledged that the problem still existed, Republicans suggested that policies were outdated and that the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act remained essentially unchanged.
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act established a formula to identify states and districts, mostly in the South, with prevalent racial discrimination in voting practices. These areas would require preclearance by the federal government to change their practices, as enforced by Section 5 of the law. The Supreme Court threw out Section 4 in June for using what it said was an outdated coverage formula, but left Section 5 intact, leaving the door open for Congress to pass a replacement provision.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran leader of the civil rights movement who worked to secure bipartisan support in the House during the law’s 2006 renewal, testified Wednesday that the protections of the Voting Rights Act were “needed now more than ever before.”
“Before the ink was even dry” on the Supreme Court’s decision, he said, “states began to put into force efforts to suppress people’s voting rights.”