Voting Rights Act extension stalls

The Voting Rights Act extension sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee 33-1 last week and was on its way to the floor for a vote. Most people thought it was a "no-brainer", but maybe not according to this Macon Telegraph editorial "Marching for voting rights is not just a futile exercise":

The mantra [regarding a voting rights march in Atlanta] coming out of Washington, D.C. was, "Why bother?" The extension of the Voting Rights Act is a slam dunk. Even President Bush said he would sign the reauthorization once Congress put it on his desk.

Now it seems those marches and demonstrations were right on target. This week the House was supposed to vote on renewing the act, but seven Georgia Republicans, led by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, have managed to block it. They want to amend the law so Georgia doesn't have to go through the pre-clearing process that now includes nine states and parts of Virginia and North Carolina, plus a few counties in California, New York, Florida and South Dakota.

The editorial goes on:

Shouldn't Georgia be able to step out of the shadow of its past and take its place among the states that don't have to seek U.S. Justice Department approval before laws affecting voting are changed?

The answer is "no."

The effort led by Republicans to require a state-issued photo ID is all the evidence one needs to understand the chicanery employed by politicians to shape the vote.

For background on this "chicanery", see previous Facing South discussion here and here.

Apparently feeling left out of the drama, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions feels that Alabama and the other "Section 5" states are being unfairly singled out, and that the DOJ oversight should be extended "up north."

Alabama and other areas in the South might no longer need the Voting Rights Act to protect minority voters, but Congress should consider if it's needed in some northern cities and states, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, said.

"We don't want a fight over this," Sessions said Wednesday. "Alabama is proud of its accomplishments, but we have the right to ask why other areas of the country are not covered by it."


Sessions and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Section 5 might need to be extended to areas such as Boston.

Sessions said Alabama officials should be responsible for prosecuting discrimination.

"I'm not saying there wouldn't be some areas that attempts at discrimination would occur, but I'm pretty confident that the Alabama Supreme Court and the attorney general would deal with that in an effective and fair way," he said.

Apparently 33 members of the House Judiciary Committee do not share the Senator's confidence. Memo to Sen. Sessions: The South lost. Get over it.

Civil rights leaders take a decidedly different view on Section 5, and in fact want the bill strengthened to restore protections that were weakened by two Supreme Court rulings:

Civil rights groups are supporting the new bill, HR 9/S 2703, "The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006" because they say it will protect the voting rights of minorities and restore the VRA to its original vitality.

"Voter discrimination has remained ever present, even as gains have been made," said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "We are pleased that the bill reflects the intent of the Congress that enacted the original bill."


In the nearly 25 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was last renewed, two Supreme Court cases have narrowed its effectiveness - Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bd. II (2000) and Georgia v. Ashcroft (2002).


According to voting rights experts, both cases reinterpret Congress's original intent , thereby diluting the power of the VRA to prohibit discriminatory voting practices. Debo Adegbile, associate director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc, said that the court in Bossier "in effect, judicially overrode Congress's intent rather than effectuating it."

"It is unnecessary and inefficient for the federal government to turn a blind eye to purposefully discriminatory acts while covered jurisdictions persist in, renew, or develop invidious voting schemes," said Adegbile.

Despite protestations to the contrary, there is still racial discrimination and still a need for laws protecting the civil rights of minorities, and everyone else for that matter, given today's climate of White House paranoia and spying on U.S. citizens. But that's a debate for another day.