On the opinion pages of The Hill, Leslie Proll , director of NAACP LDF’s Washington, D.C. office, calls on incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to make passage of the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014 his first order of business. Noting that McCarthy co-chaired the 2012 Congressional pilgrimage to mark the 47th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama (the birthplace of voting rights), Proll powerfully states: “Now, McCarthy has a chance to show that his visit to Selma was more than just a photo op.”
This week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will become Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. Taking the mantle in the middle of an election year, McCarthy does not want for front-burner issues to navigate on behalf of his caucus.
There is one issue on which McCarthy undoubtedly must lead, and that is restoring voting rights protections in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the “coverage formula” which determines which states and jurisdictions with records of voting discrimination must preclear voting changes before they can be implemented. While acknowledging that voting discrimination still exists, the Court found that the formula did not address “current conditions” in voting.
Since then, it has been an open season on access to voting in jurisdictions throughout the country. Restrictions on early voting, closed polling places, and the elimination of seats held by African-American and Latino incumbents in local districts have all been stepped up since the Shelby County decision. The mood is best understood by the exhilarated statement of the Florida Secretary of State days after the Supreme Court’s decision — “We’re free and clear now.”
When Shelby County was issued, then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor drew upon his recent pilgrimage with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to Selma, Alabama, the birthplace of voting rights, for perspective: “I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected.”
McCarthy took his own sojourn to Alabama with Lewis; we hope the trip made a similar impression. In 2012, McCarthy co-chaired the Congressional civil rights pilgrimage to mark the 47th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday. There are moving photographs of McCarthy placing a wreath at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, steps from the Capitol where the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march ended in 1965.
Click here to read the full op-ed.