The Republican lawmaker in a key position to help bolster the Voting Rights Act (VRA) isn’t convinced new legislation is needed, and wants more evidence that current laws aren’t strong enough to stop racial discrimination in voting, according to people involved in the discussions. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s go-slow approach—which comes as efforts to pass the bipartisan measure before this fall’s midterm elections enter a critical phase—is causing frustration among voting-rights advocates. Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Before agreeing to hold a hearing on the bill, Goodlatte has asked for examples of voting discrimination that have occurred since the Supreme Court weakened the VRA last year in Shelby County v. Holder, as well as information on how such incidents would have been stopped by the proposed legislation. Lobbyists with the NAACP responded to Goodlatte’s request last week with a 16,000-word document outlining a slew of discriminatory voting changes stopped by the VRA before the Shelby decision, as well as several new ones that went into effect after the landmark civil rights law was eroded.
The Shelby ruling invalidated the VRA’s most important provision, Section 5, which made certain states and localities with a history of voting discrimination got federal signoff—known as “pre-clearance”—before changing their voting laws. The ruling left in place Section 2, which lets victims of racial discrimination in voting file suit. In January, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled legislation, known as the Voting Rights Act Amendment (VRAA), that aims to reactivate Section 5, by updating the formula that determines which areas are subject to pre-clearance. But many Republicans, Goodlatte apparently among them, believe Section 2 provides sufficient protections.
“Their belief at the moment is that what’s left of the Voting Rights Act is still enough to make sure that every American voter has access to the polls,” said one person involved in the discussions, who, like many of those who spoke to msnbc, requested anonymity in order to discuss negotiations. “So that’s really where [Goodlatte] is, and we basically have to convince him before he’s willing to hold a hearing or do anything else.”
“I fully support protecting the voting rights of all Americans,” said Goodlatte in a statement provided to msnbc. “As Congress determines whether additional steps are needed to protect those rights, I will carefully consider legislative proposals addressing the issue.” But minutes after civil rights groups wrapped up a Washington press conference Thursday in which they repeatedly called on Goodlatte to hold a hearing, a House judiciary aide said via email that no hearing is currently scheduled.