The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have a message for their Republican counterparts, who are leading the blockade on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee: If you care so much about giving America a voice, give us a hearing on voting rights! The nine Democrats on the committee sent a letter Friday to its Republicans leaders — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chair of its subcommittee on the Constitution — demanding a hearing on voting rights, which the committee has not hosted since the GOP took over the Senate. They pointed to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act and the electoral and legal chaos that has ensued since. But they also used the letter to call out the same Republicans for refusing to grant Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing.
Egypt will soon complete the first round of parliamentary elections, including runoffs. Looking at the exclusion of candidates, these elections were undemocratic. Awakening U.S. Government critics is particularly likely looking at the State Department’s annual human rights report. At the start of this year, that report addressed last year’s 2014 election of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and said that the context was “not conducive to genuine democratic elections” and that “limits on the freedom of expression and assembly ‘impaired’ the process.” Similar criticism of the current 2015 parliamentary elections is likely to come from U.S. Government critics. Besides the State Department, another center of observation of Egyptian affairs has been in the U.S. Senate, particularly Senator Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees aid funds to Egypt. Senator Leahy, voicing concerns similar to those quoted below, said to Forbes.com on November 9th that “free and fair elections are about far more than casting ballots. Just as important is the ability of opposition parties to organize and candidates to participate without interference in the months and weeks leading up to election day. Egypt today, where political parties are banned and their leaders imprisoned, makes a mockery of the most fundamental principles of democracy.”
Two years after the Supreme Court gutted a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, Democrats in Congress have proposed legislation that would restore many of the lost protections. At the same time, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 would address the court’s principal objection to the provision it struck down: that the formula used to decide which states must “pre-clear” changes in their election practices with the federal government was rooted in obsolete data about political participation by racial minorities. The Voting Rights Act, first enacted in 1965, outlawed racial discrimination in voting and, equally important, required federal approval of election procedures in states (mostly in the South) with a history of disenfranchising minorities, including through the use of literacy tests. The law transformed political participation by blacks and other minorities and dramatically diversified the ranks of elected officials. In 2006, Congress extended the law, including the coverage formula for pre-clearance, for 25 years.
Voter ID laws helped contribute to lower voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012,according a new study by the Government Accountability Office. Congress’s research arm blamed the two states’ laws requiring that voters show identification on a dip in turnout in 2012 — about 2 percentage points in Kansas and between 2.2 and 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee. Those declines were greater among younger and African-American voters, when compared to turnout in other states. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) requested the report in light of last year’s decision by the Supreme Court striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. The decision freed a number of states from a pre-clearance requirement to run all changes to voting laws by the Department of Justice.
National: Republicans used to unanimously back the Voting Rights Act. Not any more. | The Washington Post
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vermont) proposed Voting Rights Act amendment to commemorate the occasion. “From its inception through several reauthorizations the Voting Rights Act has always been a bipartisan, bilateral effort,” Leahy said, “and it would be a travesty if it became partisan for the very first time in this nation’s history.” What was Leahy talking about? In 2006, when the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized, no Republican senators voted against it. In 2014, no GOP senators have stepped forward to co-sponsor the amendment to update it.
The Voting Rights Act, which enjoyed strong bipartisan support for nearly a half-century, divided senators along party lines Wednesday as they debated whether minority voters still face enough threats to warrant updating the landmark law. Democrats, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said attempts to undermine minority voters remain pervasive, even if they’re less blatant than the tactics used when the law first passed in 1965. “Since 2010, 22 states have passed new voting restrictions that make it more difficult to vote,” Leahy said, citing a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, seven of those have new restrictions in place.”
It’s hard to believe. In our sixth year with an African-American president, one-half century after passage of the Civil Rights Act and the bloody “Freedom Summer” of 1964, some Americans are still being denied the right to vote or facing government-erected obstacles to their exercise of the right on account of their race. Some states have adopted voter ID laws imposing unneeded requirements that tens of thousands of qualified voters can’t meet. Some have shortened voting hours or eliminated “early voting” days intended to accommodate people who’ll be out of town or can’t get away from their jobs on Election Day. Some persist in using outmoded, prone-to-malfunction voting machines that force would-be voters to stand in line for hours in order to cast their ballots. Those of us who were around 50 years ago this week, when the landmark civil rights law was passed, knew it wouldn’t be easy for the country to overcome its long, shameful history of discrimination. We were sad, but not surprised, when the hundreds of college kids who went south in that summer of ‘64 to work for civil rights were beaten and spat upon — and in three cases murdered. But we also had plenty of reason for hope, including the presence of a strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress in support of civil rights, and voting rights laws in particular. Where today’s Congress is all but paralyzed by partisanship, Capitol Hill in 1964 was a place where Democrats and Republicans often found ways to compromise on behalf of the public interest. There is a chance this week to advance the difficult work of recapturing that spirit, and a new struggle for voting rights provides it.
The Senate Judiciary Committee next week will examine legislation designed to restore the voting rights protections shot down by the Supreme Court last summer. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has scheduled a June 25 hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act, his bill aimed at updating those sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) deemed by the high court to be unconstitutional. The date marks the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which Leahy characterized as a “disastrous” threat to voting protections. He’s urging lawmakers to adopt his bill ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Citing concerns about new state voter-ID laws and voter roll purges, a coalition of Latino organizations on Thursday called on Congress to push ahead with its update of the federal Voting Rights Act. Speaking in a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court a year after justices struck down a key component of the federal law, members of three organizations released a report on what they say are potential problems in states with histories of discrimination. “We were told that this kind of voting discrimination doesn’t exist anymore,” said Luz Weinberg, a city commissioner from Aventura, Fla., who’s a member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “They said, ‘Give us some examples.’ So here are our examples; now it’s time for Congress to act.”
Critics of tough voter ID laws are running out of time and options in their efforts to knock down those barriers ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Opponents got good news last week, when a state judge struck down Arkansas’s law, and another jolt Tuesday, when a federal judge ruled Wisconsin’s law, which wasn’t yet in effect, was unconstitutional. But their enthusiasm could be short-lived. At least eight states are still slated to have strict photo ID requirements in place in November, leading voting rights advocates to send dire warnings about potential disenfranchisement at the polls this year. Yet on Capitol Hill, the voter ID issue remains as partisan as ever, forcing even the sponsors of bills softening those rules to concede that their legislation has no chance of moving through a divided Congress in 2014. “My bill probably doesn’t have a lot of hope to it right now,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who’s pushing a proposal essentially nullifying many of the state-based ID requirements enacted in recent years, mostly by GOP legislatures, in the name of tackling election fraud. Instead, Democrats, advocates and other voter ID critics see their best hope in passing an update to the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the 1965 civil rights law that the Supreme Court gutted last summer.
Democrats and civil rights groups are stepping up demands for Congress to move on legislation that would require some Southern states, including Mississippi and Louisiana, to once again get federal approval before making election changes. Almost 160 Democrats in Congress recently wrote House Republican leaders calling for action on the stalled bill, which they said would “restore the safeguards of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., signed the letter. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, didn’t, saying the measure wouldn’t include key states with a long history of discrimination, including Alabama. “There is a lot of concern that many of those areas will not be covered with the new bill,” said Thompson. “At the end of the day if the bill comes to the floor in whatever form, in all probability I’ll support it. But at this point, I’m going to lobby for a better bill.”
Until recently, the federal government monitored states like Arizona — which has the country’s fifth-largest Hispanic eligible voter population — that had a demonstrated history of racial discrimination at the polls. Arizona was one of nine states, along with other jurisdictions, required by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to get federal approval before making changes to its voting laws. But in 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act, ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that they were based on outdated data. In response, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich. and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have introduced the Voting Rights Amendment of 2014. But under their plan, only four states – Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi – would initially be subject to federal supervision.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is pushing his Democratic colleagues to strengthen the protections for minorities in their proposed update to the Voting Rights Act. Begich said the bill introduced in the Senate by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) does not do enough for minority voters, especially native populations in Alaska. Begich expressed concern that Alaska would not have to clear voting procedure changes with the federal government under the bill. A transparency provision that requires notice of voting changes is little consolation, he said. “This is cold comfort considering that the burden is entirely on the voter to find out about such changes,” he said in a letter to Leahy.
Civil rights advocates and some progressives are voicing concerns about a bipartisan Voting Rights Act overhaul introduced in both houses of Congress Thursday. The proposal would reinstate federal oversight of states with a recent history of voter discrimination, though it leaves voter ID laws off the list of grievances that qualify as discrimination. The original Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 and amended most recently in 2006, subjected states and counties that had historically used a “test or device” like literacy tests or racial gerrymandering to restrict voting to special oversight—any new election laws in those places had to be approved as nondiscriminatory by the federal government.
Democrats in both chambers are working behind the scenes to draft legislation to re-install the Voting Rights Act protections shot down by the Supreme Court over the summer. But in a sign of the delicate nature of the topic, Senate Democrats are taking care not to rush ahead of the House, for fear of sinking the bill’s chances in the GOP-controlled lower chamber. Instead, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is working with House Democrats and a small contingent of House Republicans – notably former Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), who championed the 2006 VRA reauthorization – in an effort to defuse the partisan politics surrounding the thorny issue and forge a bill that has the best chance of becoming law. “We’ve had hearings and now we’re just trying to quietly get some support, because I don’t want to bring up something that doesn’t go anywhere,” Leahy said Thursday.
The big surprise at the Republican National Committee’s lunch celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was the loud ovation for an elderly white conservative. The tall, 70-year-old Congressman hobbled to the front of the room with a cane. He had to be helped up the stairs to the stage. But once he reached the microphone, his call for Congress to restore the full power of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) had the crowd scrambling to get to their feet and applaud him. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) defied political stereotypes and several other Republicans when he announced an end-of-the-year deadline for reviving the pre-clearance provision of the VRA. “I am committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act as an effective tool to prevent discrimination,” said Sensenbrenner to repeated cheers. He was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when a bipartisan group approved reauthorization of the VRA in 2006. “This is something that has to be done by the end of the year so that a revised and constitutional Voting Rights Act is in place by the 2014 elections — both the primaries and general election,” Sensenbrenner told his largely black Republican audience.
Congress kicked off an effort to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with a series of Capitol Hill hearings this week, less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court severely weakened the law by striking down a key anti-discrimination provision. No legislation has been proposed yet. But senators and a leading representative spoke during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday about their appetite to fix the now-unconstitutional Section 4 formula, which set out when a state or local jurisdiction warrants special scrutiny before it can implement electoral changes. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who led the House effort to reauthorize the VRA in 2006, testified that he is committed to crafting a constitutional response to the Shelby County v. Holder decision that “will last a long time.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin holding hearings next week on the future of the Voting Rights Act after the heart of the landmark legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court last month, Chairman Patrick Leahy said Wednesday. During the hearing, titled “From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act,” senators will hear testimony on the way forward in the wake of the recent Court ruling that functionally weakened the Justice Department in its ability to block discriminatory laws before they went into effect in certain states and jurisdictions. Civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis will testify at the hearing, Leahy said, along with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who has already signaled his willingness to move forward on new legislation designed to restore the gap left in the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s recent decision.
MIDDLESEX — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says he’s been consulting constitutional scholars since he’s been home in Vermont to see if they have suggestions about how to protect minority voting rights that many feel were threatened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned part of the Voting Rights Act. Leahy, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he had consulted both liberal and conservative legal experts from around the country and he would encourage a range of witnesses at upcoming hearings of the committee. “I have no idea what the best answer is,” Leahy said Monday during an interview in Middlesex. “Then I can honestly say to both Republicans and Democrats, ‘Look, you call the witnesses you want, we’ll call witnesses. Let’s see if there is an answer,’ rather than saying this is the way it’s going to be, because it is entirely new ground.”