The House Republican sponsor of the Voting Rights Act updates said Wednesday that Congress must pass a new anti-discrimination law before the 2014 elections that restores the federal supervision the Supreme Court struck down in June. “The Supreme Court said it’s an obligation of Congress to do this. That’s a command of a separate but co-equal branch of government to do that,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday after urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to get moving on the issue. The law, he said, should be passed before the congressional elections. He added that House GOP leaders are open to the task, but they have to see a draft first, it must address the court’s objections and be “politically acceptable in both houses” of Congress. “The American people expect us to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a veteran of the civil rights movement, said at the same hearing. The 1965 law and its extensions have historically won overwhelming bipartisan support.
But Republicans and Democrats working together is a tall order in an age of divided government and scorched-earth partisanship that only died down a day earlier when the Senate struck a deal to avert a ban on some filibusters. Democrats control the presidency and the Senate, while Republicans have the House majority.
More broadly, the Voting Rights Act hearings this week in the Senate and, on Thursday, in the House, come at a tense time for race relations. The nation is grappling with the acquittal this week of George Zimmerman in the shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, has reacted cautiously to the Florida jury’s verdict.
And politically, Republicans are struggling through immigration in their bid to appeal to Hispanics and other voters who turned out overwhelmingly for Democrats in last year’s elections. So rewriting a part of the Voting Rights act is sensitive for the GOP.