House Democrats hoping to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) have an unlikely ally in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). While other GOP leaders have shown little enthusiasm for replacing the anti-discrimination protections the Supreme Court snipped this summer from the landmark civil rights law, Cantor is already talking to prominent Democrats about doing just that. “We’ve had a one-on-one; it went very well,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told The Hill last Friday, as Congress was leaving town for a five-week recess. Asked if Cantor is eyeing a legislative fix that would satisfy Democrats, Lewis didn’t hesitate. “Yes, yes, by all means,” he said.
“We think there’s a possibility we can do something in a bipartisan fashion. So it won’t be Democrats going alone and Republicans [separately]. We’re going to go together,” added Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement. “That’s what we did in 2006, and we’ll do it again.”
Cantor, a staunch conservative who spars regularly with Democratic leaders over the size and reach of the federal government, might seem an improbable voice for strengthening Washington’s oversight of state and local elections. But a March trip with Lewis to Selma, Ala., site of a watershed civil rights march in 1965, left an impression on the Virginia Republican, who described it as “a profound experience” illustrating “the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all.”
“I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected,” Cantor said in June, responding to the court’s ruling.