Voting rights experts presented sharply divergent opinions to a House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday as members of Congress tried to assess the impact of the US Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act. Some analysts told the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice that the remaining provisions of the VRA were more than enough to safeguard minority voting rights. Others said the high court’s action marked a considerable setback to future efforts to fight discrimination in the United States. “We have made amazing progress in this country over the last 50 years,” said Spencer Overton, a voting rights scholar and professor at George Washington University Law School. “Unfortunately, evidence shows that too many political operatives maintain power by manipulating election rules based on how voters look and speak.” Professor Overton said Congress must update the VRA and reauthorize the section struck down by the Supreme Court.
… Now, the question before Congress is whether to attempt to reauthorize the preclearance provision by developing a new formula to identify which jurisdictions contain the most egregious discrimination. The VRA’s preclearance provision helped federal officials identify potential discriminatory provisionsbefore they were enacted, said Robert Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
It provided a deterrent to state and local officials who might otherwise attempt to enact discriminatory measures, he said. And it helped officials monitor the pace and quality of voting changes – including at local levels of government that most federal officials would never see.
Mr. Kengle said he is concerned that losing that key provision of the VRA might send the wrong signal “if jurisdictions believe they have a green light, or if they [believe they] can sit back and wait to be sued and just drag the process out through litigation in the courts.”