Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., presides over the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act on Wednesday. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
One year after the Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, activists gathered outside the House to implore Congress to act.
Several House Democrats joined roughly 100 activists on a hot Wednesday afternoon to voice support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act. The rally followed a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill’s Senate counterpart.
“This court made a destructive and bad decision one year ago today,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as she gestured across First Street towards the Supreme Court.
“Within our power we have a bipartisan bill that doesn’t do everything,” said Pelosi, “But it does correct the decision of the court. We’re calling upon the Speaker of the House to give us our vote on this bill.”
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, told the crowd that the majority of the House would support the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., in January.
The bill addresses the high court’s 5-4 ruling that essentially struck down the core of the VRA pre-clearance requirement. Under the provision, several states, counties and cities were required to have any changes to election laws pre-approved by a federal court. The Supreme Court ruled that the method to determine which states were subject to pre-clearance was outdated and unconstitutional, putting the onus on Congress to modernize the formula.
Amending the VRA gained a surprising ally in Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican voiced his support of congressional action to address the court’s decision shortly after the ruling.
But Cantor’s shocking loss earlier this month dampened prospects that a VRA rewrite will come to the floor of the House.
“I think Eric Cantor would have stepped forward in the best traditions of Judaism and tried to give people rights and opportunities,” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., told CQ Roll Call after he spoke at the rally. “I think his defeat makes it less likely that Republicans will have that voice within their caucus.”
However, Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn, said Cantor’s defeat does not affect the likelihood of the VRA bill coming to the floor because Republicans generally oppose the legislation.
“I think he was slow-walking this thing the whole time,” said Clyburn, “and having him where he is helps the country focus the attention that it wasn’t Eric Cantor, it is the Republican philosophy” that kept this bill from advancing.
Throughout the rally, Democratic House members and activists focused their attention on Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chair of the House Judiciary Committee, calling on him to hold a hearing on the bill.
“I think he is the stick in the spokes at this point in time,” Clyburn said of Goodlatte. The South Carolina Democrat said that he had not spoken with the chairman, but Goodlatte’s fellow Virginian, Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott, has been talking with the chairman about the VRA issue.