House Judiciary Chairman: Not ‘Necessary’ To Fix Voting Rights Act

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House Republicans have determined that it’s not “necessary” to enact a legislative fix to the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a centerpiece of the law, the chairman with jurisdiction over the law told reporters on Wednesday.

“There are still very, very strong protections in the Voting Rights Act in the area that the Supreme Court ruled on, which is the question of whether or not certain states — there were, I think 11 states, all Southern states that were required by law to seek precleareance of any changes in where polling places are located and other matters like that,” House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

He said Republicans have studied the issue and solicited input from experts.

“To this point we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area right now,” he said. “And we’ll continue to examine, we’ll continue to listen to the concerns of individuals.”

The Court invalidated Section 4 of the landmark 1965 law, which lists the state and local governments that must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws. By a 5-4 vote the justices deemed the formula invalid on the basis that it uses data dating back to the 1970s to finger jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting.

“The Court found that the instances of discrimination were very old,” Goodlatte said.

The Judiciary chairman also pointed out that Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act remains on the books, allowing “bail in” of jurisdictions under the pre-clearance requirement if they demonstrate a record of discrimination.

But “you can’t do it based on arbitrary factors,” he said.

Republican support for fixing the Voting Rights Act is scant. One year ago this week, such a proposal was introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Goodlatte’s remarks “ought to be of very serious concern for everyone who cherishes the fundamental right” to vote, urging him to consider the Conyers-Sensenbrenner bill.

“I am deeply concerned and disappointed by comments from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte that Congress does not need to take corrective action to address the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby v Holder, which guts one of the most important and effective provisions ever enacted to combat voter discrimination,” Hoyer said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “As we prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of the march in Selma and the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, it would be a blow against the march toward fairness and equality at the ballot box for Congress to do nothing to address the Shelby decision.”

This article was updated at 2 p.m. to include comments by Steny Hoyer.

[Photo credit: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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