Briefing Underscores Need to Combat Modern Voting Discrimination

On Tuesday afternoon, a briefing in the U.S. Capitol examined modern voting discrimination in the United States and the urgent need for passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). The VRAA is bicameral legislation introduced in January to update and modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and to protect voters from the discrimination that persists nearly 50 years after it was originally passed.

It has been more than a year since the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, invalidated a key section of the VRA that provided extra scrutiny to places with a history and contemporary record of restricting access to the ballot based on race.

The panel included introductory remarks from Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and was moderated by Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at The Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C., office. The panel included Deborah Vagins of the American Civil Liberties Union, Tanya Clay House of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Erin Hustings of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

Austin-Hillery guided an open conversation about voting discrimination still prevalent today and how the VRAA would help to combat it. As she said, “It is what you do at the ballot box that speaks most loudly about how you feel.” While Hustings and Clay House spoke specifically to current examples of voting discrimination – including what the Lawyers’ Committee found in its series of nationwide hearings earlier this year – Vagins outlined the provisions of the VRAA, emphasizing that it is geographically neutral and constantly updating itself – adjustments created to respond directly to the Shelby ruling. “When all these provisions operate together,” Vagins said, “we would have a robust way to protect our citizens.”

Bend the Arc Commemorates Slain Civil Rights Workers, Calls for Passage of VRAA

A day before the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice joined with the Andrew Goodman Foundation to remember three voting rights advocates murdered 50 years ago – during Freedom Summer – and to advocate for voting rights nationwide.

The three activists – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner – were working to register black voters when they were kidnapped and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi. The murders incited a national outcry and helped move Congress to pass the VRA a year later in 1965.

In memory of the anniversary, a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol – featuring David Goodman, Andrew’s brother and president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc, and Rep. John Lewis – honored the activists and called on Congress to advance the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

The organizations also delivered yartzeit candles, which symbolize the anniversary of a loved one’s passing in Judaism, to each Congressional office. And to complete their day of action, Bend the Arc created a visual memorial to Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner using 3,000 candles to spell “So All Can Vote” in front of the Lincoln Memorial. That visual memorial is captured in the video below.

Senate Hearing Examines Need to Address Current Racial Discrimination in Voting

One year after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on proposed legislation to restore critical protections. That legislation – the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (S. 1945) – was introduced in the Senate in January by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D. Vt.

And though a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced companion legislation in the House, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., still hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the bill. Goodlatte has said he isn’t sure new legislation is needed.

That notion has been dispelled in a slew of recent reports documenting voting rights violations, including ones from a coalition of Latino groups and the Brennan Center for Justice. The Leadership Conference’s report, “The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination,” points to 148 voting rights violations recorded across 29 states between 2000 and June 2013. And since Shelby, the report highlights 10 violations in seven states that have raised concerns about voting discrimination.

That voting discrimination still exists, as these reports show, was not contested during Wednesday’s hearing. The application of the bill, though, was at issue, leading to Sens. John Cornyn, R. Texas, and Al Franken, D. Minn., to disagree about whether or not the bill singles out certain states. The VRAA would immediately apply to four states – Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi – but acts on a rolling basis to remedy current voting discrimination as it occurs.

“If Texas happens to be one of those states [that is immediately covered], that is because Texas violated the law – not because the United States Congress is targeting Texas,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a hearing witness.

Following the hearing, members of Congress and civil rights leaders rallied outside the U.S. Capitol to call for movement on the VRAA. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Congress shouldn’t leave for the Fourth of July recess – nor should they be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act’s passage – without first passing the VRAA.

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Rep. Judy Chu, D. Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, warned that failure to pass the VRAA would allow the United States to step back into a time of Jim Crow and Chinese exclusion, while Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D. Texas, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said that access to the voting booth is under attack despite not being a partisan issue.

All speakers at the rally made one message clear: our democracy is at stake without these protections, and moving the VRAA forward now is vitally important.

In a statement on Wednesday, Goodlatte said he would carefully consider proposals that address voting rights – a sentiment he’s expressed before. And as he stalls the VRAA, more than 120 House Democrats signed on to the bill Wednesday.

Advocates to Hold Rally for Voting Rights Following VRAA Senate Hearing

Rally-Flyer-thumbnailToday at 12:30 p.m. voting rights and civil rights advocates will hold a rally on Capitol Hill urging the House of Representatives to take up a bipartisan bill to update and modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The rally will take place right after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ongoing racial discrimination in voting and the need for the new legislation.

The hearing and rally are being held on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which invalidated a key provision of the VRA and took away one of our most effective tools for addressing voting discrimination. On January 16, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, R. Wisc., John Conyers, D. Mich., Steve Chabot, R. Ohio, John Lewis, D. Ga., Spencer Bachus, R. Ala., Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D. Texas., introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a modern, flexible, and forward-looking set of protections that work together to ensure an effective response to racial discrimination in voting in every part of the country. Senator Patrick Leahy, D. Vt. Introduced the VRAA in the Senate.

While the Senate has begun work on the VRAA, the House has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill or a markup of the bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

If you’re in Washington, D.C. today, come to the hearing in Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and then attend the rally at 12:30 p.m. on the House side of the U.S. Capitol Grounds near the House Triangle. In the case of rain, the rally will be held in Room 215 of the House Visitor Center).

Report Details Almost 150 Violations against Minority Voters, Shows Persistent Modern-Day Discrimination across the Country

One year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder,a new report from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights explains how racial discrimination in voting – an issue that is not limited to one region of the country – remains a significant problem in our democracy.

Titled “The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination: A Study of Recent Voting Rights Violations by State,” the report points to specific objections to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and other VRA objections by state from 2000-June 2013, in addition to examples of post-Shelby voting changes of concern.

Specifically, there have been 148 voting rights violations recorded across 29 states between 2000 and June 2013. Thirty of those violations occurred in Texas. Since Shelby, the report highlights 10 violations in seven states that have raised concerns about voting discrimination.

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Many of the violations detailed in the report were also included in a document sent to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., and to members of the House Judiciary Committee in response to a request for documentation about the reality of ongoing discrimination against minority voters. Though a hearing has been scheduled in the Senate, the House has yet to schedule one.

To read the full report, please click here.

 

Press Conference on 6/18: Leading Up to Shelby Decision Anniversary, Unity Between Civil Rights Groups and Tri-Caucus Continues on Voting Rights

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, June 18 at 1:30 p.m. EDT, Tri-Caucus members and civil rights leaders will host a press conference on the Hill reaffirming their unified support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA).

This press conference kicks off the most important week in voting rights, with the approaching one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder and corresponding first Senate hearing on June 25 and the upcoming 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act. At the press conference, prominent figures in voting rights today will stand together to discuss why this is the critical time for action, and call on the House to advance the VRAA now to protect voters before they go to the polls in November.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 18, 1:30 p.m.

WHO:

  • Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
  • Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC)
  • Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Lorraine Miller, interim president and CEO of the NAACP
  • Mee Moua, president and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
  • Brent Wilkes, executive director of LULAC
  • Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters

WHAT: Press conference to call for congressional action on the Voting Rights Amendment Act

WHERE: 2226 Rayburn House Office Building

RSVP: Simpson@civilrights.org or 202.466.2061

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Senate Judiciary Committee Announces VRAA Hearing On Shelby Anniversary

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) on June 25 – the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This will be the first hearing on the VRAA since the bipartisan legislation was introduced in January in both the House and the Senate.

“It is time for Congress to act,” said Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-VT), who introduced the VRAA in the Senate. “Just as Congress came together 50 years ago to enact the Civil Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans should work together now to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which has always been bipartisan.”

The VRAA seeks to repair the damage done to the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the Shelby decision. In Shelby, a divided court struck down a key provision of the VRA as out-of-date but said that Congress could act to update and modernize the law.

The hearing, “The Voting Rights Amendment Act, S.1945:  Updating the Voting Rights Act in Response to Shelby County v. Holder,” will be held at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The House has yet to hold a hearing on the VRAA.

Conservative Voices Say Passing VRAA is Good Policy and GOP Politics

Some conservative voices are calling on congressional Republicans to seize the historic opportunity to update and modernize the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and Republican strategist Ron Christie both published opinion pieces in the last week urging passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA), which was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R. Wisc., and a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers.

Sensenbrenner “knows that updating this law will not only protect the American people’s right to vote, but that it will also protect the reputation of the Republican Party as a defender of civil rights in this country,” Armstrong wrote. “In other words, updating this law is not only good policy – it is also good politics.”

Christie focused on the opportunity that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has to show leadership on the VRAA before leaving the House at the end of this Congress. Cantor, R. Va., was defeated in a Republican primary last week.

“I can think of no better way for Cantor to end his tenure as House Majority Leader than for him to forge a consensus of the majority to preserve and protect the Voting Rights Act so all Americans will continue to have unfettered access to the ballot box – regardless of their skin color or ethnicity,” Christie wrote.

Juan Williams, a contributor to Fox News, also believes that Cantor – who went to Mississippi and Alabama earlier this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the voting rights drive that preceded passage of the VRA in 1965 – has a chance to end his career in the House with a signature accomplishment.

“The stage is set for Cantor to change the narrative of his final days in the House,” Williams wrote. “He could transform his image from that of a defeated leader to that of a man who got off the mat to stand up and protect the Constitutional right to vote.”

By doing so, Williams said, Cantor would “exit the political stage as a hero.”

The VRAA would restore protections against voting discrimination that were effectively nullified last year when the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that a key provision of the VRA was unconstitutional. However, despite bipartisan support for the VRAA, the House has yet to schedule a hearing on the legislation.

Report: Voting Discrimination Against Latinos Egregious and Far-reaching

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) released a report today titled “Latinos and the VRA: A Modern Fix for Modern-Day Discrimination.”

The report highlights the importance of the Voting Rights Amendment Act for Latinos, noting that “Latinos are about 10 percent of the nation’s voting population, and have provided the margin of victory in many key elections. They are a vital part of the electorate in large states like California and Texas, and are emerging as a force in others like Georgia and Virginia.”

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The report also cites numerous specific examples of voting discrimination in states across the United States. For example:

  • When Texas began redistricting in 2011, it had gained four additional seats in Congress. About 65 percent of its population growth had come from Latinos — yet the redrawn maps failed to create even one new district in which Latino voters would have had an opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice. A federal court found discriminatory intent and threw out the maps.

For more, read the full report here.

Virginia NAACP, LULAC, & League of Women Voters Call on Congressmen Goodlatte and Cantor to Move Forward on Voting Rights Amendment Act

Groups Take Out Full Page Ads in Roanoke Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch

 

VIRGINIA – Tomorrow, local chapters of civil rights and voting groups are taking out full page ads in the Roanoke Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch calling on their members of Congress to move the congressional process forward on the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA).

The ads, which were taken out in collaboration with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, highlight the unique influence that Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and Eric Cantor have over the future of the VRAA, which would update and modernize the landmark Voting Rights Act to protect voters from discrimination in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder. As the ads state, the Voting Rights Act “has protected voters for 50 years, approved time and again by bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed into law by presidents from both parties—from Lyndon Johnson, to Ronald Reagan, to George W. Bush.”

The Roanoke Times ad (Click here for a PDF) highlights Rep. Goodlatte’s role as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where the bipartisan VRAA has been awaiting committee action since its introduction in January. The ad was sponsored by LULAC Council 4609, the League of Women Voters Lynchburg, the Virginia State Conference NAACP, the Roanoke Branch NAACP, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. It says “we are calling on Congress and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte to act. A bipartisan bill has been introduced to modernize the Voting Rights Act and provide modern protection to all voters. We urge the House Judiciary Committee to advance this needed legislation, and ensure that no voter is denied his or her right to vote this November.”

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch ad (Click here for a PDF) highlights Rep. Cantor’s role as House Majority Leader, stating that “every day that goes by without a modern Voting Rights Act is a threat to voters everywhere. Majority Leader Cantor and Congress have the power to modernize protections for all voters. We ask them to move forward on this historic opportunity.” The ad was signed by the Virginia State Conference NAACP, LULAC Council 4609, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Richmond Times-Dispatch buy also includes online banner ads targeting Rep. Cantors constituents.

Below are quotes from organizations who signed on to the ads:

Joan MacCallum, President of the League of Women Voters of Lynchburg

“The League of Women Voters of Lynchburg is counting on Congress to come together to restore the Voting Rights Act after a bipartisan group of legislators introduced H.R. 3899, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. Protecting the right to vote is something that every member of Congress should be able to agree on. It has been nearly six months after the legislation was introduced and little progress has been made to keep it moving forward. Lynchburg’s own, Representative Bob Goodlatte, has the power to move this legislation to the next level as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Goodlatte, the right to vote is not about politics or the outcome of elections; it is about equality and justice. Virginians and all Americans deserve to hear a debate on this issue. We’re counting on you to move this legislation to the next level.”

Vivian Sanchez-Jones, LULAC Supporter/Community Organizer (Roanoke, VA)

“Congress must pass a Voting Rights Act Amendment that meets the needs of the 21st century. LULAC urges Chairman Goodlatte to give the VRAA real consideration and move the bill through the legislative process.  Every month, more than 52,000 young Latinos turn 18, many of whom are U.S. born citizens and eligible to vote.  LULAC believes that the cornerstone of our democracy is the right of every American citizen to vote.  Passage of an effective VRAA ensures that the right of every American to vote is respected.  It also helps to encourage greater participation, particularly for young people, who may be casting their first ballot in the next election.”

Below are recent objections to the Voting Rights Act in Virginia:

  • Northampton County (2003) – In 2003, the county proposed a redistricting plan and the realignment of voting precincts.  The benchmark plan contained two black majority districts in which black voters had been able to elect candidates of choice in two districts.  However, the proposed plan had only one such district while eliminating the ability of black voters to elect their candidates of choice in the other district.  DOJ concluded that minority voting strength was unnecessarily reduced in the county.
  • Northampton County (2003) – In 2002, the county proposed a redistricting plan for the Board of Supervisors and the realignment of voting precincts.  Under the benchmark plan, black voters have been able to elect candidates of choice in three districts.  The proposed plan had no district in which black persons constitute a majority of the voting age population.  In the ten years prior to 2003, no black-preferred candidate had won in a district in which whites were a majority of the voting age population.  The analysis of electoral behavior indicated that a reduction in the black voting age population had the potential for a significant difference in the ability of black voters to elect a candidate of choice.
  • Cumberland County (2002) – The county proposed a new redistricting plan for the Board of Supervisors.  At the time, District 3 was the only district in which black persons constituted a majority of the total population.  However, under the proposed plan the black population in that district would be reduced as would the black voting age population.
  • Pittsylvania County and Pittsylvania County School District (2002) – The proposed change referred to a 2001 redistricting plan for the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Education.  The county proposed a plan would have reduced the black population in the only district in which black persons were a majority of the population to below 50%.  DOJ analysis showed that the level of racial polarization in the county was extreme, such that any reduction would have called into question the continued ability of black voters to elect their candidates of choice.
  • Northampton County (2001) – The county proposed to change the method of election for the Board of Supervisors from six single-member districts to three double-member districts, as well as a new redistricting plan for the Board of Supervisors, and the realignment of voting precincts.  Under the existing method of election, black voters had been able to elect candidates of their choice to office in three districts.  The proposed plan did not contain any districts in which minorities constituted a majority of the voting age population.  DOJ determined that minority voters would not have had the same opportunity under the proposed plan that they had under the existing plan to elect even two candidates of choice.

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