GOP has tough choices on Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court says Congress can rewrite Voting Rights Act, but GOP path isn't clear
Associated Press
Jul 5, 2013

When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights act last week, it handed Republicans tough questions with no easy answers over how, and where, to attract voters even GOP leaders say the party needs to stay nationally competitive.

The decision caught Republicans between newfound state autonomy that conservatives covet and the law's popularity among minority, young and poor voters who tend to align with Democrats. It's those voters that Republicans are eyeing to expand and invigorate the GOP's core of older, white Americans.

National GOP Chairman Reince Priebus began that effort well before the court's decision by promising, among other initiatives, to hire non-white party activists to engage directly with black and Latino voters. Yet state and national Republicans reacted to the Voting Rights Act decision with a flurry of activity and comments that may not fit neatly into the national party's vision.

Congressional leaders must decide whether to try to rewrite the provision the court struck, but it's not clear how such an effort would fare in the Democratic-led Senate and the GOP-controlled House. And at the state level, elected Republicans are enacting tighter voting restrictions that Democrats blast as harmful to their traditional base of supporters and groups the Republicans say they want to attract.

States like North Carolina and Virginia provide apt examples of the potential fallout. An influx of non-whites have turned those Republican strongholds into battlegrounds in the last two presidential elections, and minority voters helped President Barack Obama win both states in 2008 and Virginia again in 2012. Nationally, Republican Mitt Romney lost among African-Americans by about 85 percentage points and Latinos by about 44 percentage points, margins that virtually ensure a Democratic victory.

Yet presidential math doesn't necessarily motivate Republicans who control statehouses and congressional districts in states most affected by the Voting Rights Act. Core GOP supporters in the region react favorably to voter identification laws and broad-based critiques of federal authority.

Against that backdrop, Southern Republicans celebrated Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion that effectively frees all or parts of 15 states with a history of racial discrimination from having to get advanced federal approval for any election procedure.

The so-called "preclearance" provision anchored the law that Congress renewed four times since its 1965 passage as the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement for black Americans. The law contains an "opt-out" provision that allowed a jurisdiction to ask a federal court for release from preclearance if it has established a record of non-discrimination. Roberts said that process — never used successfully by an entire state — wasn't enough.

"The court recognized that states can fairly design our own (district) maps and run our own elections without the federal government," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement.

Citizens can still sue to overturn state laws, but they'll likely have to prove discrimination after the fact, rather than local authorities having to convince federal officials in advance that a law wouldn't discriminate.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican running for governor, said: "I do not believe we have the institutional bigotry like we had before."

GOP officials in Texas and Mississippi promised within hours of the decision to enforce new laws requiring voters to show identification at polls. The U.S. Justice Department's civil rights lawyers had frozen the Mississippi law while they considered effects on minority voters, while a panel of federal judges in Washington blocked the Texas law because of its potential to harm low-income and minority voters. North Carolina Republicans said they'd enact their own voter identification law. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed new congressional district maps — tilted to Republican advantage — that federal authorities would have had to review.

But in Washington, Republicans like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia embraced the nuances of Roberts' ruling. The court didn't actually strike down preclearance, instead tossing rules that determined which jurisdictions got oversight. Congress is free to rewrite those parameters and revive advance review, Roberts wrote.

"I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside," Cantor said, "and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."

The white Republican recalled his recent trip to Alabama with black Democratic Rep. John Lewis on the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat, was beaten repeatedly as a young civil rights advocate during the 1960s. The commemoration, Cantor said, was "a profound experience."

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who helped lead the law's latest reauthorization when the GOP ran Congress in 2006, said the court "disappointed" him. Lingering discrimination, he said, compels Congress to update the act, "especially for minorities."

"There's no easy answer" for the GOP, said Henry Barbour, a high-profile member of the Republican National Committee. The Mississippi native conceded his personal views demonstrate the complications.

Barbour helped write the national party's post-election analysis calling for better outreach to minorities and urged fellow Republicans that "our tone is important, on this and any other issue." But he's clear in his support for the decision and what it means in Mississippi.

Blatantly racist laws like poll taxes and literacy tests once made preclearance necessary, Barbour said. "But when you have to go hat-in-hand to Washington every time you want to move a polling place," then it's evolved into "federal harassment that's gone on way too long," he added.

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said Congress is capable of writing a new national formula based on the latest voter registration and turnout data "if everyone will sit back and take a deep breath."

Barbour disputed that forecast, but not because of opposition from Southerners. Rather, he said, "People in these other states don't want this scrutiny coming to them."

That frustration reflects part of the 2006 renewal debate in Congress. Despite fewer than three dozen dissenting votes, some Southern members said the extra scrutiny should apply nationwide or not at all.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who supported ending preclearance, said Republicans should emphasize parts of the act still in use. Besides a general discrimination ban, the feds can invoke preclearance for jurisdictions with new patterns of mistreating minorities. That "opt-in" rule has affected Arkansas, New Mexico and some cities and counties.

Others in the GOP say election results form a defense. Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina party chairman, noted that Gov. Nikki Haley, of Indian descent, appointed then-Rep. Tim Scott as the modern South's first black U.S. senator. He'll seek a full term next year.

"We're walking the walk," Dawson said.

Of course, Southern states also produced the widest margins among white voters in favor of Mitt Romney and John McCain in their losses to Obama.

Chris LaCivita, a Republican consultant in Virginia, offered one more potential comfort for Republicans: The relationship between Democrats and whites. Republicans need more minority votes in presidential years, but Democrats need more white Southerners if they want to regain control of Congress or many statehouses.

"Democrats might want to think long and hard about making a racially based argument," LaCivita said, "considering voters they need don't like having to pay for the sins of their fathers."




Re: "there are things that only the federal government can do."


See the list of enumerated powers within the U.S. Constitution:

Unfortunately it's got it tentacles into too many other areas.


Was it "unfortunate" the government had it's "tentacles" in the Wall St. debacle?


Sure was... the relationship between commercial banks and Freddie Mac is a good example


I haven't seen any post here who want no gov't, I have seen those who want to follow the 10th Amendment and have states and local governmets take care of what should be done locally instead of by elites in DC. Controlled by those who actually can see what is needed in the local area instead of someone who reads a 3rd or 4th hand report, after it has been condensed a few times.


Problem with those like you is you want to pick and choose what part of the constitution you want to adhere to.


Says a person who who wants to pick not following the 10th Amendment.

Care to point out the parts of the Constitution I don't wish to follow? Or do you just make statements about other people you can't back up, in other words, at best gossip, or at worst lie?


You are a complete WASTE OF MY TIME! There was no need to change the VOTER'S RIGHTS ACT!

The Big Dog's back

I think grumpy is pooh's alter ego.


Same old liberal whining about nothing!!!


There was no reason to continue to put a burden on the 15 states that had to go to the federal gov't to make changes in the voting laws of the state. 35 states don't have those restrictions. Things have changed from 50 years ago, some people just wish that they were stuck in the 60's, in other words stuck on stupid. When the problem is fixed, as SCOTUS found in this court case, they took away the no longer needed restrictions. It changed nothing but the need for the 15 states to get permission from the federal gov't to do what the other 35 states can do on their own. Please continue to jump up and down while whining and crying about SCOTUS making the states equal. again.

The Big Dog's back

Yep. All those law changes were stupid weren't they. Civil rights act, Medicare, Jim Crow abolishment, voting rights act. Stupid, just plain stupid weren't they.


Re: "Stupid, just plain stupid, "

Yes you are. :)


Last I checked this decision from SCOTUS was about the 15 states affected by the ruling no longer having to go to the feds for permission to do what the other 35 states can do without asking for permission. The rest would be off topic and deflecting. The rest of those things are the current law. Do you have a problem with them?

The Big Dog's back

Ahhhhh, you're the one who brought up 50 years ago. 60's? Remember you posting that?


In context of problems that have been solved, as per the SCOTUS decision, you are correct. The others can be brought to the Supreme Court if you wish, but I don't see anyone lining up to do so. You can be first. We'll see how many follow your lead.

The Big Dog's back

Maybe you should check again. Reference from an independent source your assertion that is about 15 states, not just what roberts said.


State what you mean. I have no desire nor need to do your research. I have not said that the Act wasn't needed... 48 years or so ago. But after the problem is solved the punishment and restrictions should end... as demonstrated by the Supreme Court decision. If you wish to dispute that make your reasons known. If not I see no reason for the Act to continue, and SCOTUS agrees with that.

The Big Dog's back

SCOTUS and stripping voting rights OK. SCOTUS and ruling for abortion not OK. SCOTUS and ruling Corporations are people,OK. SCOTUS and ruling for gays not OK. Gotcha grumps.


SCOTUS decided that voting rights are safe in those 15 States as the problems fron 50 years ago have been solved, and are no longer being done. As such no need to treat them different than the other 35 states. They also defined corporations as people as far as being able to donate money to politicians, same as unions are able to do. SCOTUS also made the ruling for the gay folks. All are fine by me. Sorry if you have problems with them, your opinion on said cases really doesn't matter, they are now the law of the land. Feel free to dispute them all you wish.


@deertracker Good point. It is a shame that some people "posting" here do not have the tools to comprehend this!


deertracker writes:

"There was no need to change the VOTER'S RIGHTS ACT!"

"Problem with those like you is you want to pick and choose what part of the constitution you want to adhere to."

EXACTLY - look long and hard in the mirror. :)


"The court recognized that states can fairly design our own (district) maps and run our own elections without the federal government," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement.

Ohio did not design our own (district)fairly. Just look at our district lines.This what we can expect. To be fair all states should be treated equally.


Elections have consequences. If dems had won they would have made the districts to advantage themselves. It is called politics. would you be whining if that had happened? Didn't think so.
When you were a child your mother told you to put yourself in the other persons shoes to see if it was fair.
Politicians don't do such things, no matter the party. Both gerrymander the districts when they are in the majority.


Advocating for justice is not whining.


When you take one side that will do the same thing to take advantage of the process does not represent justice.


Re: "Ohio did not design our own (district)fairly."

The party in power ALWAYS tends to draw the districts to their political advantage. Goes for both.

It'll come around again with the next census in 2020.


My point is that no state or party should be able to do this. It should not be politics as usual. It is about representation.


The further control is from the people the less chance for representation of ALL the LOCAL people. Like when the control is from the elitist feds in DC compared to the control of those in the community.

The Big Dog's back

Sounds like the Repubs on here want to raise our state and local taxes immensely in order to implement the things the Fed does now. Thanks righties.


If the State does more of the governing they would need more tax money, and the feds would need less. Math tends to work that way. But then you should realize such basics without them being pointed out to you.