As Voter ID law opponents continue to push back against the voter suppression strategy in the courts with mixed results, it has been a hard sell in the political war to win over hearts and minds. And with so much focus on the very obvious civil rights arguments repeatedly stressed in the drawn out legal battles over Voter ID, it remains unclear if that narrative works when translated for consumption by the larger public domain. That’s becoming problematic for Black voters. “Yes, there is a pattern heading into 2016,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) tells the Tribune. “While voter disenfranchisement is nothing new, this is a new iteration of it that we’re very worried about. Most just don’t understand the impact.” Implementation of Voter ID laws, as well as state and local propagation of voter suppression tactics, have already become a drain on already cash-strapped government coffers. To date, Texas has already spent $8 million defending its controversial Voter ID law.
Alabama: Congressional Black Caucus Blasts State’s DMV Office Closures As Discriminatory Toward Minority Voters | International Business Times
A group of African-American lawmakers on Friday blasted a decision by Alabama officials to shutter dozens of driver’s license offices, a move that disproportionately affects government ID services in black Democratic areas of the state. Given the state’s 2011 law that requires voters to show government-issued IDs before casting election ballots, closing the offices potentially disenfranchises thousands of black and minority voters, the Congressional Black Caucus said. “Alabama’s decision to close ID offices reminds us that 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the fight for equal access to the polls still continues today,” the caucus said in a statement released Friday. “Having a say in our country’s Democratic process still does not exist for all.” Since a 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required federal approval of voting law changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, members of Congress and voting rights activists have pushed for restoration of the law. They did so as some Republican-led states passed laws requiring government-issued IDs and other forms of identification at polling places.
House Democrats are floating a legislative deal linking the thorny Confederate flag debate with expanded voting rights. Republican leaders last week were forced to scrap a vote on an Interior Department spending bill — and suspend their appropriations schedule indefinitely — over a partisan disagreement about displaying the Confederate flag in national cemeteries. Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday that Democratic leaders will drop their push to attach flag-related amendments to appropriations bills, freeing Republicans to pursue their spending agenda, if GOP leaders will agree to consider an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a central part of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
National: Lawmakers, Obama, civil rights leaders to honor Selma’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ this weekend | McClatchy
Nearly one-fifth of Congress will be in Selma, Ala., this weekend with President Barack Obama and his family to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march – a watershed moment that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups say the commemoration of this moment in the civil rights movement should spark work in Congress to update the law after the Supreme Court weakened it in 2013. Some congressional supporters say the lawmakers’ pilgrimage could help build support. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will be one of 98 members of both parties from the House of Representatives and the Senate going to Selma. “It shows me there’s interest by Republicans to guarantee voting rights for African-Americans,” Butterfield said.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner fell short in his 2014 efforts to convince GOP leadership to take up his Voting Rights Amendment Act, but the Wisconsin Republican is ready to take another stab at passing a rewrite of the historic law. But there’s little indication this year will be any different. For Sensenbrenner and his fellow co-sponsors of the legislation introduced Wednesday, many of the same obstacles remain — along with a few new ones. On the surface, it would seem the time has never been better — nor the political pressures greater — for the Republican-controlled House to take action. The VRA’s 50th anniversary this summer has the landmark civil rights legislation back in the spotlight almost two years after the Supreme Court, challenging lawmakers to update the law for the 21st century, struck down the enforcement section of the act. Sensenbrenner chose to drop his bill on the same day the House considered legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to the “foot soldiers” of 1965’s bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
President Barack Obama named voting rights protections as a priority in his State of the Union address Tuesday, but legislation that would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act faces tough challenges this Congress. That legislation, called the Voting Rights Amendment Act, would resurrect the 1965 law’s “pre-clearance” provision requiring states with a history of voting discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes in their elections procedures. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 — in Shelby County vs. Holder — that the formula used to determine which states were subject to pre-clearance was invalid, effectively nullifying the provision itself.
A day after a top Republican seemed to dismiss the need to restore a critical part of the Voting Rights Act, lawmakers Thursday told NBC News they would reintroduce bipartisan voting rights legislation next week, in what the Congressional Black Caucus says will be a massive effort to aggressively defend voting rights. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., suggested other sections of the Voting Rights Act are already strong enough. “To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary to protect people because we think the Voting Rights Act is providing substantial protection in this area right now,” Goodlatte said while speaking to reporters at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast. Calling Goodlatte’s statement a “bombshell,” the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., warned “If Bob Goodlatte is speaking for the Republican Conference, this is a very serious development because we are going to push back in a very significant way against the unwillingness of the Republicans to take up extending section five protections.”
National: Congressional Black Caucus, Democrats rip lack of voting right protections in Republican agenda | The Hill
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is teeing off on Republicans over the absence of voting right protections in the GOP’s new congressional agenda. Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he’s “deeply troubled” by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) recent comments that Republicans have no intention of replacing central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) shot down by the Supreme Court in 2013. “If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand — one in which they are on the wrong side of,” Butterfield said in a statement. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Goodlatte said congressional action is simply not necessary to improve the VRA because the parts of the law remaining after the Supreme Court ruling are “substantial.”
Democrats and civil rights groups hope the fight to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act will boost turnout among minority voters this year, particularly in the South. “We’re going to do some things to raise the profile of the Voting Rights Act and the fact that the Supreme Court gutted it,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana. “You will see us be more active. We tried to do it in a very bipartisan manner … But it just doesn’t seem like that’s going to go far enough soon enough, so it’s going to be a fight.” Richmond is among those working to pass legislation that would revive a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court threw out last year. The bill’s supporters are making their case at press conferences, town halls and in newspapers — online and in print — to mobilize voters. The issue will be the focus of several panels at the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual legislative convention in Washington this week.
Passing a new Voting Rights Act in the GOP-dominated House was never going to be easy, supporters acknowledge. But with a powerful Republican such as Eric Cantor as an ally, hope flickered for nearly a year. Then came June 10 and the shocking primary defeat that tanked Cantor’s congressional career — taking with it, in all likelihood, any prospect for an update of the landmark 1965 civil rights legislation that had been weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling. Even with Cantor as majority leader, said a House aide close to the VRA negotiations, “I would have speculated that it was certainly a very steep climb. That it was unlikely, but there was still hope.” But with the Virginia Republican out of the mix, the aide said, “it doesn’t appear we’re going to see it this Congress.”
Time is running out for Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court last year struck down major parts of the voting law, and a bipartisan fix has stalled in Congress. The justices ruled that the formula used to designate which parts of the country must face heightened federal voting clearances was outdated and unconstitutional. New legislation, introduced earlier this year, seeks to update the procedures. Advocates believe the bill will pass both chambers of Congress if it is brought up to a vote, but that looks unlikely. In the House, conservative Republicans, especially those from Southern states that are singled out for the extra scrutiny, are skeptical of the measure Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) hammered out with House and Senate Democrats. If the bill were signed into law soon, it would be in effect for this November’s elections. Some Democrats are unhappy with compromises struck to win GOP support related to voter identification. Others on the left are concerned with the scope of the bill. Previously, nine states with histories of voter discrimination were required to get federal approval before they changed their election procedures. Under the new plan, only four states would be forced to seek such approval. Still, most Democrats would back the bill if it comes up for a vote. A number of senior Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are on board.
A senior Democrat on Tuesday said he was “hopeful” the House would approve new voting rights legislation by the summer, despite the lack of an endorsement from the Republican leadership. “We are very hopeful that we will pass a voting rights bill and do so in the near term, hopefully in the next couple of months,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during his weekly briefing with reporters. Hoyer over the weekend participated in an annual bipartisan pilgrimage to the South commemorating the civil rights movement. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also attended events on the trip, and Hoyer said he planned to meet with Cantor this week to discuss a legislative response to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Cantor has joined the pilgrimage with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights leader, for the past two years, but he has yet to take a position on a bill that Lewis wrote with GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.).
When the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act in June, Democrats and civil rights activists vowed to breathe new life into the landmark law. Six months later, they haven’t gotten very far. Efforts in Congress to restore preclearance, the process by which the Justice Department reviews state election law changes for their effect on minorities, have stalled. And though a lawsuit aims to restore review of Texas based on allegations of recent discrimination, it’s months away from a hearing. A Congressional Black Caucus task force crafted a set of recommendations that would reinstate the formula for preclearance and sent it to Democratic leaders in August, but no legislation has come of it. If the recommendation became law, Texas could be back under preclearance, needing federal approval on every change, including tweaking districts, moving polling locations and changing voter ID laws. The recommendations would require federal oversight for any district where a law or change to voting procedure has been found by the court to be discriminatory since 2000. In August, a federal court found Texas’ voter ID law to be unconstitutional, and an appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected after its June ruling. But it could be awhile before Congress considers the matter. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat who helped lead the task force, said that the plan would have majority support in the House, but not from most Republicans who control the chamber — and it’s rare for the House to vote on a bill that most Republicans oppose.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that the Justice Department will continue its efforts to protect voting rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision which gutted the Voting Rights Act earlier this summer. During remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus, Holder explained that the lawsuits filed to stop Texas’s discriminatory redistricting and voter ID laws are “just the beginning.” “Thanks to the hard work of our Civil Rights Division, we are continuing to refine and re-focus current enforcement efforts across the country,” he said. “And while the suits we’ve filed in Texas mark the first voting rights enforcement actions the Justice Department has taken since the Supreme Court ruling, they will not be the last.”
Although many congressional Republicans so far have been noncommittal about rewriting an invalidated section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said Wednesday that “a lot” of them want to do so. Sensenbrenner is the most prominent among a small number of GOP lawmakers who have urged a congressional rewrite of the statute after the Supreme Court partially struck it down in June. But that doesn’t mean other Republicans are not willing to join him in his effort, he told CQ Roll Call in an interview. “There are a lot of Republicans who are [on board], but they don’t want to be publicly named,” said Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former Judiciary Committee chairman and architect of the 2006 compromise to reauthorize the voting law. “There’s a lot of pressure, and I’m happy to take that.” Sensenbrenner said he has “no idea” when the first legislative language of a rewrite might appear, but said “we’re going to start talking about drafts after the recess.” He and other negotiators — including two Democratic working groups in the House — will need to address two basic questions, he said.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are seeking to strengthen the Voting Rights Act by making it easier for judges to expand voter protections across the country in response to individual discrimination lawsuits. The effort goes beyond crafting a broad definition of which voters should get extra protection based on regional records of racial discrimination. The move is an indication that some Democrats are hoping to use last month’s Supreme Court decision scrapping the law’s Section 4 coverage formula as an opportunity to bolster other provisions of the landmark civil rights legislation that were left intact by the ruling. Specifically, the lawmakers are taking a close look at revising Section 3, which empowers the court to apply Section 5’s federal “preclearance” requirements to jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against minority voters.
National: Obama tells black lawmakers he’ll help rebuild Voting Rights Act | The Dallas Morning News
President Barack Obama pledged to black lawmakers Tuesday that he will help rebuild the Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court ruling gutted federal oversight of states with a history of bias. “He’s with us, and he wants to make sure we do something to strengthen voting rights for all Americans,” Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said at the White House after Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Black lawmakers said they also discussed how to develop a new formula for deciding which states deserve extra scrutiny. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court struck down the existing formula, based on decades-old voting data. That freed Texas and eight other states from having to get federal permission for any change to voting laws and procedures. Given the polarization in Congress, it’s unlikely lawmakers will act any time soon.
Black lawmakers pressed President Obama on Tuesday to ensure that immigration reform doesn’t shortchange African immigrants, and they strategized about ways to protect minority voting rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The Congressional Black Caucus met with Mr. Obama at the White House for about 90 minutes, their first gathering with the president in more than two years. Although some caucus members have been critical of Mr. Obama for not doing enough to lower black unemployment and appointing too few blacks to his Cabinet, they emerged from the meeting with words of praise for the president. “We are on the same page,” said Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, Ohio Democrat and CBC chairwoman.
National: Voting rights gains of ‘60s in jeopardy, Attorney General Eric Holder says | The Sacramento Bee
Attorney General Eric Holder told African-American clergy leaders Wednesday that a wave of new state laws on voting and legal challenges to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 may jeopardize rights they helped fight for in the civil rights era. “Despite our nation’s long tradition of extending voting rights . . . a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions and problems that – nearly five decades ago – so many fought to address,” Holder told a meeting of the Conference of National Black Churches convened by the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the laws. “In my travels across the country, I’ve heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who – often for the first time in their lives – now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation’s most noble ideals. And some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang in the balance.” Holder spoke in response to an array of new voting measures enacted by several mostly Republican state governments that proponents say are needed to protect against voter fraud and to prevent illegal immigrants from voting. However, the mostly Democratic black caucus – along with several civil rights, voting rights and civil liberties groups – contends that the laws are really efforts to suppress the votes of minorities and others.
Companies giving at least $2 million to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation — nearly half of its reported 2010 donations — also backed an organization championing voter identification laws that caucus members say “suppress” minorities’ right to vote. The group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, lists 22 corporate and trade association members on its private enterprise board. Thirteen of those firms also contributed to the black caucus foundation in 2010, according to Internal Revenue Service records and the latest available data on the websites of both organizations. The dual support puts companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) (WMT), AT&T Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, in the position of financing both sides in a political dispute over state laws that the U.S. Justice Department said in some cases are biased against minority voters. “Corporations should be conscious of how their advocacy money is being spent by organizations that they contribute to,” said U.S. Representative Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat and a member of the black caucus. “This is a wakeup call for corporate interests to be more responsible for how they spend their money.” A spokeswoman for the black caucus foundation, Traci Hughes, didn’t respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Just months after a new Voter ID law was passed, some US Congressional leaders say it’s not too late for the state leaders to reverse what they call a step backwards in voting rights. Reverend Emanuel Cleaver, II is one of many US Congressmen disturbed by the new voter ID law in Tennessee that goes into effect in a matter of weeks. Meant to prevent voter fraud, Cleaver believes it’s only preventing voting.
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus Emanuel Cleaver was in Nashville Sunday delivering a sermon at a local church and also his strong opinions about Tennessee’s voter ID law and why he says it needs to be repealed in January. Cleaver gave the sermon at Spruce Street Baptist Church in Nashville Sunday morning. While he didn’t talk politics during the service, he was happy to give his opinions afterwards.
Democrats on Thursday ratcheted up efforts to combat new voting laws adopted by 13 states that Democrats contend are deliberate efforts to keep its core voting blocs from casting ballots next year. “Election legislation and administration appear to be increasingly the product of partisan plays,” says a letter to election officials in all 50 states signed by 196 Democrats in the House of Representatives. “Election officials are seen as partisan combatants, rather than stewards of democracy. … We are asking you, as front line participants, to put partisan considerations aside and serve as advocates for enfranchisement.”
Thirteen states last year approved changes to their election laws and another 24 states are weighing measures that proponents say are needed to protect against voter fraud and to prevent illegal immigrants from casting ballots. Members of the House Democratic leadership, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus unveiled the letter they’re sending to election officials urging them to oppose new voting measures that a recent study said would adversely impact the ability of more than 5 million people to register or vote.