On Friday, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) called on his colleagues to restore the gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act. In light of the attacks on voting rights by Republican controlled States and with support from conservative Judges, Senator Casey said we need to restore the Voting Rights Act to ensure that voting rights are protected under federal and state laws.
The right to vote has been called the most precious of our rights, the ‘primary right by which all other rights are protected,’ however, over the past few years, legislation and court decisions at both state and federal levels have been slowly chipping away at this right,” said Senator Casey. “I am calling on Congress to act quickly to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act and put in place the necessary protections to guarantee all citizens the right to vote, regardless of race, national origin or language. When Congress reconvenes I will be looking at ways Congress can underscore and protect American’s most fundamental right, the right to vote.
Senator Casey outlines provisions for a Voting Rights Amendment Act that would restore Section Five of the Voting Rights Act with an updated preclearance formula.
- It would allow courts to “bail in” a state or political subdivision. Bail-in requires preclearance for voting changes in State’s that meet the following criteria.
- Five or more violations of the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments, federal voting rights law and Section two of the Voting Rights Act within the past fifteen years. Or failure or denial of preclearance by a court or failure or denial of preclearance by the Attorney-General.
- There must be at least one State-wide violation.
The Bail-in criteria for political subdivisions are:
- Three or more violations within the previous fifteen years. Alternatively, a political subdivision can be “bailed-in” if there is one violation with “persistent and extremely low minority voter turnout.”
- States or political subdivisions will be covered for 10 years beginning on January first of the year of the most recent violation. The exception is if the state or subdivision gets a “bail-out.”
- State and political subdivisions (including covered States) can bail out of coverage if they are violation free.
Senator Casey also proposes an expansion of Section 3(c) to allow bail-in based on violations of federal voting laws and discriminatory effect, rather than only when plaintiffs can show intentional discrimination.
In total, 34 states have restrictive voter ID laws. In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s stricter photo ID, basing their decision on Federal Court Judge Richard Posner’s ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law in Crawford v. Marion County.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court placed preclearance requirements on life support when it gutted the preclearance formula in Shelby v. Holder. While the ruling was technically correct when it called on Congress to revise the VRA’s preclearance formula, the political reality is this ruling was welcomed by Republicans. Still, Senator Casey called on Congress to expedite restoration of the Voting rights Act.
I’m calling on Congress to immediately come together on a plan that would restore voter protections and ensure all Americans have equal protections when it comes to voting. In 2006, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in a nearly unanimous fashion. It’s time for Congress to come together in that same bipartisan spirit and fix this egregious ruling. Countless Americans fought and some died to secure the protections in the Voting Rights Act. We can’t just honor those courageous actions in words, we must also come together to make sure those protections are a staple of our laws
The combination of this ruling and lack of action in Congress cleared the way for more draconian measures like those in Texas and North Carolina that would have failed under preclearance.
In October 2013, Judge Posner denounced his own ruling saying,
I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion (affirmed by the Supreme Court) upholding Indiana’s requirement that prospective voters prove their identity with a photo ID—a law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.
Everyone knows the VRA is toxic to Republican lawmakers because its return would mean they would have to recognize that “the will of the people” includes the will of African-Americans, Hispanics, young voters, seniors, low-income workers and women most of whom vote Democrat.