Ever since the Supreme Court gutted a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act and threw it back in Congress’s lap, lawmakers in both parties have engaged in happy talk about the prospects of patching the provision used to proactively snuff out voter discrimination against minorities in the state and local governments where it’s most prevalent. But it’s looking less and less likely that a fix will be agreed to because Republicans have little to gain and a lot to lose politically if they cooperate. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said late last week, according to Roll Call. A recent House Judiciary Committee hearing made clear that Republicans have little to no interest in reconstituting the Voting Rights Act. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-TX) opened by emphasizing that even after the Supreme Court’s decision, “other very important provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in place.”
At issue is the Voting Rights Act’s now-invalid Section 4, the formula used to determine which state and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws. It was last reauthorized in 2006 by a 98-0 margin in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. But for Republicans, there’s a huge difference between allowing the renewal of a historic law for racial equality, and going out their way to reconstitute it now that the Supreme Court has thrown out part of it.
“Historically I fully understand why they addressed the situations they did,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chairman of the Judiciary Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the issue, told reporters. “I am just of the opinion today that we should do as the court said and that is to not focus on punishing the past but on building a better future.”
Attempting to fix the law would require Republicans to give public scrutiny to racial disparity in the party’s geographic base. And it would require backtracking on years of political rhetoric warning of federal government overreach and downplaying racial inequality. On top of that, conservative legal scholars believe the concept of preclearance is unconstitutional. “There’s no reason for Congress to take any action,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said at the Judiciary hearing.