Resisting the Siren Song of Voting-Rights ‘Reform’
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published June 6, 2014 on The Washington Times website.
As the nation gears up for crucial midterm congressional elections in November, another “reform” proposal has emerged, with lawmakers hearing the predictable siren song of “go along, or be accused of racism.”
That’s a scary threat when a charge of racial bigotry —- real or imagined —- has enormous power.
In such a hothouse liberal-media culture, Democrats have managed to persuade an ordinarily sensible Republican, Wisconsin’s Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., to take leave of his senses and sponsor this bad legislation.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (H.R. 3899, S. 1945) was introduced in January as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder on June 25, 2013, invalidating one part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Liberals are pressuring congressional leaders of both parties to enact this legislative “fix.”
On June 4, more than 80 liberal religious groups sent a letter to Congress urging passage.
The original law required the U.S. Justice Department or a D.C.-based federal court panel to preclear any voting-law changes in nine mostly Southern states and local jurisdictions in six others. Enacted with huge majorities in both houses of Congress, the statute eliminated Jim Crow laws that had discriminated against blacks since the days of Reconstruction after the Civil War. The law was a crucial, effective component of the civil rights campaign to end racial discrimination.
In recent years, however, evidence has piled up that Section 5 is being abused by a politicized Justice Department. The Supreme Court rightly noted that Section 4, which justified and required unequal treatment of some states under Section 5, could no longer pass constitutional muster because it relied on nearly 50-year-old, obsolete data.
In Georgia, for instance, under one of the most restrictive photo-ID laws in the nation, 50.4 percent of registered black Georgians voted in 2010, compared with only 42.9 percent in 2006, as noted by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky in their book Who’s Counting? In 2008, with Barack Obama on the ballot, the number of black Georgians voting in the Democratic primary doubled from 2004.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter photo-ID law, noting that minority participation actually increased markedly in the Hoosier State after the law went into effect. As other states began adding photo-ID laws, the shrill, false charge of “suppressing minority voters” arose in the media, echoing the left-wing, George Soros-funded Brennan Center for Justice and the Obama Justice Department.
In 2011, the Justice Department used Section 5 to halt South Carolina’s new voter photo-ID law, charging, without persuasive evidence, that it would adversely affect minority, elderly and young voters.
By the time a federal court in 2012 overruled Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s naked attempt to make South Carolina more vulnerable to vote fraud, the state had spent more than $3.5 million to win its case.
Mr. Holder also temporarily halted a Texas voter-ID law and threatened other states if they dared to pass photo-ID laws. He has given speeches attacking voter-ID laws as racist, while his own department openly practices racial and political discrimination, as chronicled in former Justice Department Voting Section lawyer J. Christian Adams’ best-selling book, Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department, as well as by the department’s own inspector general.
One of the more alarming aspects of the Sensenbrenner bill is that it not only lays the groundwork to give Mr. Holder and future attorneys general blanket authority to interfere with state election laws nationwide, it also would insert racial discrimination explicitly into the nation’s most important federal voting-rights law.
The bill’s “stated purpose is to prevent racial discrimination, but it would force racial gerrymandering, make race the predominant factor in the election process, and advance the partisan interests of one political party,” Mr. von Spakovsky writes in a Heritage Foundation Talking Points paper.
That’s because the law explicitly excludes “nonminorities” from full protection of the Voting Rights Act, thus depriving a majority of U.S. citizens of full civil rights protection —- a clear violation of constitutional guarantees of due process and equal treatment under the law.
In a sense, the bill codifies what has already been Justice Department policy: ignore voting violations if committed against nonminorities. Mr. Adams, who quit the department in 2010 after the department dropped voter-intimidation charges against New Black Panther Party members, testified before Congress that Justice officials made it clear that only cases brought by minorities against “nonminorities” would be considered for action.
With all this as background, it’s reasonable to ask Republican congressional leaders why they aren’t taking a firm stance against a bill that would empower unelected federal bureaucrats to openly and legally discriminate against some Americans, and federalize state elections nationwide.
The bill is backed by leftist groups and liberal, partisan lawmakers such as Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Why would any self-professed conservative find their shopworn siren song irresistible?