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?

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 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devil "pre-clearance," which required a batch of mostly Southern states to get approval for any voting law changes, has been replaced by this: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.

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 is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Mad About Modi

Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.