Congress begins hearings on the Voting Rights Act

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Congress is taking the first steps toward bringing back Section 5 pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee will kick off the congressional response
with a hearing on Wednesday featuring Congress' civil rights conscience:
Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Congress revisits Voting Rights Act:

A House Judiciary subcommittee will follow Thursday with another hearing. At this point, no bills have been introduced, and civil rights groups are still discussing what to put forth and how to nudge the process along. They are weighing the political realities in a Congress where the Republican-run House and Democrat-controlled Senate often are light-years apart.

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Lewis, a leading figure in the civil rights movement who watched President Lyndon Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act in 1965, will play an influential role in shaping the congressional response.

In addition, Lewis and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will call on President Barack Obama to fill long-standing vacancies on the Election Assistance Commission, Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. The four-member EAC is a bipartisan, independent commission intended to provide recommendations on federal election law, but Republicans say it's wasteful and have voted to get rid of it and blocked any appointees since 2011.

Lewis is the headliner for Wednesday's Senate hearing and will be joined by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who led the 2006 re-authorization in the House and has been supportive of drafting a new law.

Lewis has brought many colleagues from both parties over the years to Selma, Ala., to walk the path of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" voting rights march. The televised brutality of white police officers against the marchers – including Lewis – shocked the nation and spurred the passage of the Voting Rights Act a couple of months later.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor cited that trip in his response to the Supreme Court ruling, in which he said Congress must act. Other Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Doug Collins – a Georgia freshman with an arch-conservative voting record – have said Congress should come together on a new formula.

Agreeing that action is necessary is one thing. Agreeing on the scope of pre-clearance is another.

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Scott Simpson, the press secretary for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is working to coordinate a response with several advocacy groups, Simpson said positive remarks from Republicans indicate that past bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act can hold.

"The fact that hearings are being held within one month of the ruling shows that Congress is taking seriously its responsibility to protect voters from racial discrimination," he said. "We're encouraged by the many positive statements from both Democrats and Republicans on the need to respond to the decision. … It's early yet, and the legislative process has only just begun. But we strongly believe that that bipartisan consensus is possible again."

It's going to be long haul, as it always is.

UPDATE: Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog is decidedly pessimistic. The Chances of a Deal to Fix the VRA After Shelby County? Observations about the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing.

Here is a good reason why: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, which is holding the hearing on Thursday, is chaired by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), one of just 33 Republicans who voted against the last VRA
re-authorization in 2006. (A total of 390 House members voted for it).

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