Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin published an op-ed Thursday in the New York Times criticizing his fellow lawmakers for failing to restore the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013.
“Ensuring that every eligible voter can cast a ballot without fear, deterrence and prejudice is a basic American right,” Sensenbrenner wrote. “I would rather lose my job than suppress votes to keep it.”
Sensenbrenner pointed to the bipartisan bill he introduced more than a year ago to restore some of the protections that had been knocked down as a result of the Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court then invalidated the formula determining which states and localities were subject to a process known as pre-clearance, in which changes to voting regulations had to be approved by federal officials.
Though it has 100 co-sponsors, including 13 Republicans, Sensenbrenner’s bill has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.
“Some of my colleagues view the bill as unnecessary because of the progress we have made against voter discrimination,” Sensenbrenner wrote in the op-ed. “The bill’s structure, however, ensures that preclearance will apply only if in fact discrimination occurs.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had told members of the Congressional Black Caucus that he believes the Voting Rights Act should be restored. However, Ryan reportedly said he would not pressure the judiciary committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), to take up legislation that would do so.
The 2016 election will be the first national presidential election without a fully-functioning Voting Rights Act since it was enacted in 1965, and voting rights activists are sounding the alarm that chaos will ensue at poll places due to a wave of voting restrictions passed without federal approval in the wake of the Shelby decision. They see the disaster that was the presidential primary in Arizona, a state previously subject to pre-clearance, as a prelude to disenfranchisement on a massive scale come November’s general election.
“The 2016 primary season has been marred by hateful rhetoric and ugly politics,” Sensenbrenner wrote. “Passing the Voting Rights Act of 2015 would be Congress’s most enlightened response.”