Letter to Chairman Goodlatte Re: Voting Rights Act
Advocacy Letter - 07/26/16
Source: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Recipient: The Honorable Robert Goodlatte
July 26, 2016
The Honorable Robert Goodlatte
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Goodlatte,
Just months before the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), we write to express our frustration that two bills to help restore the law continue to languish in the committee you chair. More than three years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating Shelby County v. Holder decision, voters across the country desperately need Congress to take action to protect their rights.
We have seen voting restrictions proliferate across the nation since the Shelby decision. One week ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found (as had three federal courts before it) that Texas’ restrictive voter ID law violates the VRA because it discriminates against Black and Latino voters. A day earlier, a federal court in Wisconsin struck down that state’s voter ID law as well. And as we saw in many primaries this year, jurisdictions once covered by the VRA erected barriers making it harder for people to vote – with predictable results.
- In Brooklyn, entire buildings and blocks were de-registered from voting in a purge of 126,000 voters from the rolls.
- Arizona’s largest county – with the highest number of minority voters – closed 60 percent of its polling places, resulting in voters standing in line for five hours to cast a vote.
- In North Carolina, more than 230,000 voters lacked the photo I.D. required by the state’s voter suppression law – a law that is being challenged as racially discriminatory.
Historically, ensuring the right to vote for all eligible Americans has been an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue in Congress. This week, in fact, marks the 10th anniversary of President George W. Bush signing the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA. With both chambers of Congress controlled by Republicans, that law passed the U.S. House by a vote of 390-33 and the U.S. Senate by a unanimous vote of 98-0. In 2006, you were among the lawmakers who recognized the need for strong voter protections and voted for the reauthorization.
The Shelby decision badly weakened the law and your refusal as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to take action is having disturbing consequences. This month, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) deployment of election observers has been “severely curtailed” as a result of Shelby. Because Section 8 of the VRA, which addresses observers, is linked to the coverage formula struck down by the Supreme Court, DOJ is sending observers only to jurisdictions covered by court order, which includes Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, and New York. The federal observer program’s critical role -- to detect discrimination and intimidation at the polls -- is still critically needed, but is now largely obsolete.
Since Shelby, many voters have been unable to cast ballots and won’t ever be able to get those votes back. In a repor last month, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), presented a compendium of post-Shelby state, county, and local voting changes that threaten minority voting rights. Another report by The Leadership Conference Education Fund found that these restrictive voting laws could determine the presidency, impact control of the U.S. Senate, and decide gubernatorial races.
Given this evidence, it is extremely distressing that you continue to refuse to hold a hearing on proposed legislation to restore the VRA. As Chairman of the committee, you have both the ability and the obligation to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally.
Two bills pending in the U.S. House of Representatives would help to restore the full protections of the VRA. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Republican from Wisconsin, has introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 885), which has more than 100 cosponsors – including 15 Republicans. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Sensenbrenner led the effort to reauthorize the VRA in 2006.
In June 2015, Rep. Terri Sewell introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 2867), another bill to help restore the VRA’s full protections. Rep. Sewell, a Democrat, represents Selma, Ala., where brutal images of marchers being attacked in 1965 inspired the passage of the VRA later that year.
Both of these bills have been languishing in your committee for months. Two days before Rep. Sewell introduced H.R. 2867, you said the VRA is still “very strong.” You also said: “We are certainly willing to look at any new evidence of discrimination if there is a need to take any measures. But at this point in time, we have not seen that, and therefore no changes have been made since the Supreme Court decision.”
Given the many recent examples of voting discrimination, especially those documented in LDF’s thorough collection of post-Shelby voting measures, we urge you to reconsider your position and hold a hearing to examine this new evidence. Your failure to do this would be a disappointing abdication of your responsibility to Congress and to the nation.
Please feel free to contact either of us or Lisa Bornstein, legal director at The Leadership Conference, at email@example.com or (202) 263-2856, regarding this letter.
President & CEO
Executive Vice President
CC: Rep. John Conyers, Ranking Member House Judiciary Committee