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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

June 24: Democrats On Their Own With VRA Fix

You may recall that two years ago from tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There was a lot of talk about a bipartisan “fix”–that never came. So now Democrats are moving on their own, as I discussed today at Washington Monthly.

At the time Shelby County v. Holder came down, there was initially some talk about bipartisan action to “fix” the VRA, mostly led by the genuinely well-meaning Rep. James Sensenbrenner, but fed by comments from then-House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggesting the GOP congressional leadership wanted to make this a priority. Then, for two years: crickets.
So now congressional Democrats are tired of waiting for the GOP to show some interest, even as GOP-controlled state governments trip over each other in enacting voting restrictions.
As Ari Berman notes at The Nation, a new bill will be introduced tomorrow

The legislation will be formally introduced tomorrow by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and leaders of the Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and Asian Pacific American Caucus in the House. Civil-rights icon Representative John Lewis will be a co-sponsor. The bill is much stronger than the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA), Congress’s initial response to the Supreme Court’s decision, which garnered bipartisan support in the House but was not embraced by the congressional Republican leadership, which declined to schedule a hearing, let alone a vote, on the bill.
“The previous bill we did in a way to try and get bipartisan support–which we did,” Senator Leahy told me. “We had the Republican majority leader of the House [Eric Cantor] promise us that if we kept it like that it would come up for a vote. It never did. We made compromises to get [Republican] support and they didn’t keep their word. So this time I decided to listen to the voters who had their right to vote blocked, and they asked for strong legislation that fully restores the protections of the VRA.”

It’s not like waiting around forever for GOP interest in a “fix” didn’t have a psychological cost:

The legislation will be formally introduced tomorrow by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and leaders of the Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and Asian Pacific American Caucus in the House. Civil-rights icon Representative John Lewis will be a co-sponsor. The bill is much stronger than the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA), Congress’s initial response to the Supreme Court’s decision, which garnered bipartisan support in the House but was not embraced by the congressional Republican leadership, which declined to schedule a hearing, let alone a vote, on the bill.
Since the Shelby decision, onerous new laws have been passed or implemented in states like North Carolina and Texas, which have disenfranchised thousands of voters, disproportionately those of color. In the past five years, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states, with half the states in the country adopting measures making it harder to vote. “If anybody thinks there’s not racial discrimination in voting today, they’re not really paying attention,” Senator Leahy said.

This history probably won’t keep Republicans from complaining that Democrats aren’t being bipartisan on voting rights. Or maybe GOPers will be too busy congratulating themselves from finally abandoning Confederate insignia to pay attention.

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