Patrick Leahy. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)
A year after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act, a congressional push to undo the justices’ ruling is stalled because of opposition from Republicans, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the Voting Rights Amendment Act, introduced six months ago by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in response to the 5-4 high court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
“Despite repeated efforts, I am troubled to report that as of this hearing, not a single Senate Republican has stepped up to the plate,” Leahy said in a statement at a hearing on the bill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced the companion bill in the House, but it has not moved forward there.
“The House Republican leadership has shown a similar lack of willingness to act on this critical bill,” Leahy said. “Not only have House Republicans refused to vote on or markup the bill, but they refuse even to hold a hearing.”
Shelby County struck down how the law determines which jurisdictions are required to win preclearance under Section 5 for changes in voting practices from a federal court or the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the bill creates a backdoor mechanism that will be used to negate legitimate voter ID laws, and he doesn’t trust Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. when it comes to the power the bill would give him. “There’s little doubt this bill goes well beyond addressing Shelby County and beyond the coverage formulas of the Voting Rights Act it is meant to replace,” Grassley said.
“The Justice Department since Shelby County has continued to bring voting rights cases under Section 2 and Section 3 of the current law,” Grassley said. “It has prevailed in a number of those cases. The Voting Rights Act is strongly enforced and is protecting the rights of all Americans.”
Leahy took a shot at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during Wednesday’s hearing. “During oral argument, Justice Scalia foreshadowed the majority’s view of the law when he asserted that Congress’ support of the Voting Rights Act was based on the ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement,’ ” Leahy said.
“I could not disagree more with Justice Scalia,” Leahy said. “I suggest that he live in the real world, and see what has happened in voter rights throughout this country.”