A top Republican has all but confirmed that Congress won’t move forward with legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was badly weakened by the Supreme Court in 2013. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary committee, said Wednesday morning that the landmark civil rights legislation is still robust enough to stop racial discrimination in voting. “There are still very, very strong protections in the Voting Rights Act in the area that the Supreme Court ruled on,” Goodlatte said at a breakfast event with reporters, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “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.” He added, according to an audio recording obtained by msnbc: “We’ll continue to examine this, we’ll continue to listen to the concerns of individuals, and we’ll certainly look at any instances of discrimination in people’s access to the ballot box, because it is a very, very important principle.”
Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has led an aggressive effort urging lawmakers to strengthen the VRA, blasted Goodlatte’s comments.
“Chairman Goodlatte has paid no attention to the rampant voting discrimination still happening throughout the country, most recently seen in the 2014 midterm elections,” said Henderson in a statement. “If he were ‘listening’ as he claims, the chairman would recognize the clear need to restore the Voting Rights Act to ensure that all voters are allowed to cast a ballot.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers last January introduced legislation to strengthen the VRA. But despite an intense lobbying effort by civil rights groups, Goodlatte had declined even to hold a hearing on the measure. Wednesday’s comments go further still in confirming that Republicans see the bill as a nonstarter.
Still, congressional supporters of fixing the VRA haven’t given up. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who has helped lead the push to strengthen the law, plans to reintroduce a tweaked version of the VRA legislation this session, according to a person involved in the discussions.