The Voting Rights Amendment Act (“VRAA”), H. 3899 and S. 1945, is the bipartisan Congressional response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The VRAA has strong Republican support. When the Court issued Shelby County last June, Republicans in Congress immediately identified the need to respond to the decision:
Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI-5), who led reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, stated: “The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process. Section 5 of the Act was a bipartisan effort to rectify past injustices and ensure minorities’ ability to participate in elections, but the threat of discrimination still exists. I am disappointed by the Court’s ruling, but my colleagues and I will work in a bipartisan fashion to update Section 4 to ensure Section 5 can be properly implemented to protect voting rights, especially for minorities. This is going to take time and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected.”
Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH-6), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, stated: “I am disappointed that the Court invalidated the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula, which has been used for decades to help protect the voting rights of millions of Americans. However, by leaving Section 5’s pre-clearance requirements intact, the Court has given Congress the opportunity to amend the coverage formula to preserve these important protections. I am hopeful that we will work together to enact an appropriate fix in the same bipartisan manner and spirit that we did when reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006.”
Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and former aide to Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), recently called upon conservatives to support the VRAA:
First enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) prohibited discriminatory voting practices that had been used to deny people, especially people of color, their constitutional right to vote.
This landmark law had wide bipartisan support and has been seen by historians as one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by the Congress.
Republicans have had a long history of protecting voting rights. In 1965, only one Senate Republican and only 20 House Republicans opposed the conference report that was signed into law by President Johnson. 30 voted for it in the Senate and 111 voted for it in the House. But those votes proved to be crucially important to get the bill over the top.
Conservatives should embrace Jim Sensenbrenner’s efforts to update the Voting Rights Act
Mr. Williams is absolutely right about his history. The Voting Rights Act has enjoyed bipartisan support ever since its enactment in 1965. Every reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act has been signed into law by a Republican President.
In signing the 1982 reauthorization, President Ronald Reagan remarked: “[T]he right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished. The legislation that I’m signing demonstrates America’s commitment to preserving this essential right.”
At the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden in 2006, President George W. Bush stated: “The right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future lies at the heart of the American experiment…. In the four decades since the Voting Rights Act was first passed, we’ve made progress toward equality, yet the work for a more perfect union is never ending. We’ll continue to build on the legal equality won by the civil rights movement to help ensure that every person enjoys the opportunity that this great land of liberty offers…. My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court.”