The New Voting Rights Act Fix Would Protect Voter ID Laws, So Should Liberals Hate It?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 16 2014 2:20 PM

The New Voting Rights Act Fix Would Protect Voter ID Laws, So Should Liberals Hate It?

130535022-rep-john-conyers-participates-in-a-news-conference-at
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is behind the bill, so presumably he doesn't hate it.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After the Supreme Court defanged Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there was chatter about a congressional effort to fix it. The chatter was easy to dismiss. If a Democratic Congress couldn't amend campaign finance law after Citizens United, how would a divided Congress fix voting rights, when the concerns of Republicans (stop voter fraud!) and Democrats (stop the fake war on voter fraud aimed at disenfranchising people!) are at odds completely?

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Dismissals officially canceled. Reps. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. and John Conyers, D-Mich., have released the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014, watered down just enough to win over Republican support. "We look forward to reviewing it," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's spokesman Doug Heye of the new legislation. That's not a no!

Ari Berman, as one might expect, has the best summary of the bill. The old devil "pre-clearance," which required a batch of mostly Southern states to get approval for any voting law changes, has been replaced by this:

States with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past fifteen years will have to submit future election changes for federal approval. This new formula would currently apply to Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Local jurisdictions would be covered if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and “persistent, extremely low minority turnout” over the past fifteen years.
Advertisement

North Carolina, that bête noire of liberal voting rights campaigners, would be exempted. One reason: Voter ID laws would not count as "violations." They would be subject in states that have been subject to pre-clearance for other reasons, but going forward, jamming through a new ID bill would not alert the DOJ.

Ian Millhiser suggests that a new legal power created by the bill makes the compromise worthwhile for liberals.

Currently, the Justice Department is suing Texas and North Carolina under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision which allows a state to be made subject to preclearance if a court finds “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief have occurred within the territory of such State or political subdivision.”
The problem with Section 3, however, is that it is widely understood to require the Justice Department to prove that Texas and North Carolina enacted voter suppression laws with theintent of disenfranchising voters because of their race. Proving intent is a challenge in any context — neither judges nor attorneys are mind readers — so DOJ faces a difficult road ahead under current law. The bipartisan bill will strengthen Section 3 so that “any violation of the VRA or federal voting rights law – whether intentional or not – can be grounds for a bail-in.” This is a really big deal. Big enough that it probably justifies paying the high price Cantor and others have demanded in order to revive the Voting Rights Act.

And of course the very existence of the bill, the fact that Republicans might see an upside in passing it, is a reward for months of liberal pressure.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How in the World Did Turkey Just Get 46 Hostages Back From ISIS?

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.