James O'Keefe Says a New Voting Rights Bill is Racist Against Whites

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 5 2014 5:43 PM

James O'Keefe Says a New Voting Rights Bill is Racist Against Whites

Rep. James Sensenbrenner isn't the easiest congressman to get hold of. He does not stop in the halls to talk, unplanned, with reporters. He does not beckon the national media into his town hall meetings. So, kudos to James O'Keefe for going undercover, in hunting gear for some reason, and posing as a constituent. It's just confusing what he decided to do when he got in the room. O'Keefe insists that Sensenbrenner's attempt to restore some version of voting rights law pre-clearance is de facto racist.

Advertisement

There is no mention of the "Voting Rights Act" in the intro. It's called "a part of federal law that gives Eric Holder the power to approve election law in 16 states," and Sensenbrenner's amendment is called "legislation to give Eric Holder back power over state elections." Framed that way, what conservative could possibly support it?

In the room, asking questions, O'Keefe does use the law's name. He asks Sensenbrenner whether it's true that the bill "removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner says it isn't -- a red buzzer goes off. We're directed to language in Sec. III, subsection 4 of the bill, which defines "the term 'minority' as used throughout.

This is strange. That's not the bill's only mention of race -- it's a pretty trivial one, actually. The meat is in Sec. II.

Types of Violations.-- Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973a(c)) is amended by striking ``violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment'' and inserting ``violations of the 14th or 15th Amendment; violations of this Act (other than a violation of section 2(a) which is based on the imposition of a requirement that an individual provide a photo identification as a condition of receiving a ballot for voting in an election for Federal, State, or local office); or violations of any Federal voting rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group."

Discrimination "on the basis of race" or "color" isn't limited to one race or to non-whites. Later, the bill describes a "voting rights violation" as when "any court of the United States has determined that a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority." 

Sure, there's more to the bill. The SCOTUS decision on VRA ended "pre-clearance" for a group of states that had histories of discrimination in voting. The amendment doesn't restore that standard. Its new standard includes special scrutiny for states or counties if they had, among other things, "extremely low minority turnout during the previous 15 calendar years." Yes, that "minority" refers to non-whites. But it doesn't, say, immediately put Texas back under the microscope.

But most people who covered the bill have been over this already. O'Keefe's claims just don't wash. For real news value in the video, we're left with this odd statement from Sensenbrenner.

I hope the president vetoes the bill... if the president loses this bill, he will lose an awful lot of the African-American support that he has.

That's pretty cynical, and it implies that the bill is designed to be good for blacks. An odd bookend to a day that saw a nominee to run DOJ's civil rights division taken down because he defended a convicted cop killer and yammered too honestly about the Voting Rights Act. The more conservatives believe that the VRA will be rigged against them, the easier it'll be to block nominees or amendments.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

The NFL Should Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status, Which It Never Should Have Had Anyway

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 18 2014 6:52 PM Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters  Colorado Democrats and Republicans are testing theories for reaching women that will resonate far beyond the Rocky Mountains.  
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.