The Dallas Morning News reports that a new bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to resurrect the floundering Voting Rights Act would include strong new protections against racial meddling in Texas. As the sagacious may recall, back in June the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to gut Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, which required the States of Jim Crow to get any election updates precleared by the Federal Government. The Court declared that the world had changed since the advent of this act in the 1960s, and that racism had been vanquished, thus exclaiming that such an antiquated formula was unconstitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the dean of the Court’s liberal minority and the author of a scathing dissent in this case, compared it “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
The Court’s blow to the Voting Rights Act was all the more harmful because it expected Congress to simply pick up the slack and fix the law by provided a new coverage formula for the aforementioned preclearence based on modern statistics. However, getting Congress to do anything is easier said than done. Accordingly, it was a very good sign yesterday when Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced a bill that would revive the coverage formula based on those States with recent VRA violations (i.e., Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi & Texas).
Sensenbrenner implied to the Associated Press that other Republicans –even from the South– could tentatively sign on as co-sponsors. Currently, its only major supporter in the Senate is Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who serves as the President Pro Tempore of the upper chamber. Other, broader support is definitely not out of the question. Slate even recently noted that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is open to a fix.
One thing to note, though, is that in most cases Voter IDs will not be counted as violations. From what I understand, this would not apply to the States like Texas still subject to preclearence based on our…erg…record.
When all is said and done, this could fall apart pretty quickly. The most harmful side effect of the Supreme Court’s Shelby case is that it granted added legitimacy to the position of being opposed to the Voting Rights Act. Notice how there was not a single Republican to vote against the bill’s reauthorization in the Senate last decade, and only a handful of certifiable loons doing so in the House? While it is certainly true that the Republican Party has moved quickly and mercilessly to the right in recent years –and for what it is worth, the Texas GOP included a provision to repeal the VRA in their 2012 platform— the Supreme Court decision has changed everything in how a conservative lawmaker is able to approach the situation.
The decision, all of a sudden, institutionalized the opposition and transformed the impetus from racism to constitutionalism. Similar to how Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights act, not because he was a racist, but because of “constitutional grounds,” now the modern day Goldwaters (who Barry himself would have damned if alive today) can justify a prejudiced and backwards position with recent legal precedent. All these Southern Republicans can now come out of the closet of Jim Crow and take a modern day stand in the schoolhouse door against any resurrection of the law.
Part of the GOP caucus sees this is a horribly dangerous tactic. Among them are Sensenbrenner and Cantor. As long as the Hastert Rule is still in effect, a majority of the Republican caucus will have to support this bill in order for it to get out of the chamber alive. Whether or not that will be accomplished is anyone’s guess.