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."




A joke told to me by a late liberal friend:

Democrats are like a person who while walking along a beach sees a man drowning 50 ft. offshore.

He throws the man a 100 ft. rope, drops the rope and then continues his walk along the beach looking for others to help.

A Republican also walking along a beach, witnesses a man similarly drowning 50 ft. offshore, but instead, he tosses the man a 25 ft. rope. And while holding the rope yells for him to swim towards it.


Good one.

The Big Dog's back

Off topic again.


@ lil dog


Relax -- Drink Up -- No Worries


Re: "Off topic again."

Perusual, you missed the point DERPY.

Repubs need to be more like Dems to win voters don't they?

The Repubs just need a 150 ft. rope to drop. :)

The Big Dog's back

I don't think stripping someone of their voting rights is funny in any way. And to make an off topic joke about it is despicable.


Re: "stripping someone of their voting rights,"

Yea, voter ID is SO oppressive DERPY. :)


The court decision strips the voting rights of people, how? All it does is give s 15 states the same rights as the other 35 states have.

The Big Dog's back

If I wanted to hear faux news talking points I would watch it. Use your own head.


I have come to not be surprised that you can't answer how voting rights were stripped, since the answer is they weren't. The only thing this court decision did was not require 15 states to ask permission to do what the other 35 states do without asking permission.


Contango: I think your friends joke is somewhat accurate and very telling. It is true that Republicans truly only care about themselves, but they aren't usually willing to meet anyone even halfway. So, the joke would have been more accurate if the Republican threw only a 10-foot rope and then complained that he had to give 10' of his rope that he had earned/paid for...


No Coaster, the 25 feet of line or rope, sorry grew up maritime, is to help the person out of a bind just like food stamps and welfare are today. Unfortunately, to bring this saying up to 2013 terms one would need to change the line or rope to a democrat’s hose. You see in today’s society there is no longer a lifeline, there is a desire and it is being fulfilled to be a hose, a never ending support system that is not a method to motivate but a style of living. Once the hose is flowing it is almost impossible to stop the flow!


Re: "I think your friends joke is somewhat accurate and very telling."

Yea, it's spot on how the Dems block the elimination of waste, fraud and outright abuse in hundreds of publicly financed programs (dropping the rope).

Maybe spend some time reading GAO reports?


The headline to this article hit the nail on the head: the GOP's path isn't clear. The article mentions that they hope to "expand their core of older, White Americans". It's hard to see how that might happen, since their party leadership continues to anger and alienate most everyone else. Democrats have won the popular vote for 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, and Republicans are doing absolutely nothing to reverse that trend. As their core of angry, old white men dies off, their core will continue to shrink. They still think that the reason they lost in 2008 and 2012 was due to the messenger they chose, rather than the message.

The party leadership is finally beginning to realize that they need to change their approach, even if they have no idea what to actually do. The local conservative citizenry apparently aren't even there yet, and it's fascinating to read their posts. Some have no clue that theirs is the minority viewpoint. They rant on, in smug assurance that they are the "intelligent majority", apparently not noticing that it is no longer 1950, 1970 or 1990.

Things have changed, but they didn't notice. As long as they continue to ignore the fact that their viewpoint is - in 2013 - supported by a shrinking minority of Americans, they'll continue to lose. Works for me. :) Denial is a powerful thing, they say...

Pterocarya frax...

In 2006, between the House and Senate, Republicans voted 244 to 33 in favor of renewing the Voting Rights Act. If you would think those 244 would be outraged at the "Activist Judges" who said their votes didn't matter, I guess you would be wrong.


The GOP (Gray Old Party) is a dying dinosaur. Until they change their views on gay rights, women's rights, worker's rights, etc. they will not win the White House again. The Republican Party has become an exclusive all white Southern party. Hopefully the younger generation of GOPer's won't be as bigoted and closed mind as the current group!!

The Big Dog's back

Exactly. The problem is if you ask them if they are bigoted and close minded, they say no. They have to recognize the problem 1st.

There you go again

I found your comment to be"bigoted and closed minded."

The Big Dog's back

Repubs would be fine with Jim Crow laws.


You are correct BD. They really believe this is THEIR country and only THEIRS!


It was actually Democrats who introduced Jim Crow Laws. It was a Democratic Governor (Wallace) who infamously declared "segregation then, segregation now, segregation forever". It was a Democrat (Gore,Sr)who led a group to vote against the Civil Rights Act. It was a Democrat (Byrd) who was a leader in the KKK. If you want to give a history lesson, get your facts straight at least.

The Big Dog's back

Tell me which Dem is advocating that now. The Dems booted those people out of the party. And where did they end up? With you and the Repub party.


What EXACTLY are you talking about?

The Big Dog's back

You're talking 50 years ago. Once again, same question.


Some seem to wish that the Southern states were again dominated by the democrat party, back in the "good old days " when Jim Crow laws were passed the democrats were in control, and were the ones who wrote and passed the laws in the first place, now they say that the GOP won't, can't, and hasn't changed, but the dems have. The dems seem to want everything to be looked at like it was the 60's still. The dems don't seem to want things to change from that time period. They seem to be stuck on stupid.

The Big Dog's back

What from the 60's do you want changed? Civil rights Act? (The reason the southerners left the Dem party) Medicare? Segregation? 24th Amendment? Voting Act? Which ones do you want to change?


Re: "bigoted and close minded,"

Only one, single, solitary thought is necessary in a liberal-Progressive mind:



Close but not quite correct. The liberal/Progressive mind says

let the FEDERAL gov't do it, the farther, more isolated from the people the better. Treat people from Mass. the same as those in Idaho. They have so much in common, and don't even think of letting anything closer to the people like local government deal with anything, those politicians might be persuaded by the people instead of controlled by the elite in DC.


Re: "Treat people from Mass. the same as those in Idaho."

Good point.

Anti-Federalism - gut the 10th Amendment.

The United STATE of America.

And why is it that 4 of the 10 richest U.S. counties surround DC?


I get so tired of all the government bashing. Name a government that is perfect. Fact is, a country of over 300 million people need to be governed. Sometimes, there are things that only the federal government can do. Private corporations are only interested in profit. If the cons think everything is just fine why the need to change any laws?