Nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., made a breathtaking assertion.
“The fact of the matter is we have a Voting Rights Act; it is very strong,” Goodlatte stated in June 2015. “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.”
While he is correct that we still have a VRA, the law is no longer “strong.” Since Shelby, and even since Goodlatte’s misguided statement, courts are showing that states freed from federal oversight have taken license to discriminate — resulting in a slew of evidence for Goodlatte to consider.
Earlier this month, a federal court found that Texas lawmakers drew House districts to intentionally discriminate against minority voters. The week before, another federal court ruled that Texas’ strict voter ID law “was passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” marking the fifth time since 2011 that a federal court has ruled against the ID law. Last month, some congressional districts in Texas were found to be drawn “with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength or otherwise violated the Fourteenth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution. And in January, a federal judge ruled that the city of Pasadena, Texas, was purposefully diluting Latino votes — making it the first jurisdiction in the country since Shelby to again need federal approval before changing its election laws.
That’s four rulings this year of intentional racial discrimination. And that’s just Texas.
Last July, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that North Carolina’s H.B. 589 was enacted with “racially discriminatory intent” to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The decision meant that photo ID wouldn’t be required for the November 2016 election, and it restored provisions that H.B. 589 had eliminated, including a week of early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and a preregistration program for 16- and 17-year-olds. The law, which has become known as the state’s “monster voter suppression law,” was passed just weeks after Shelby.
Alabama’s voter ID law, also implemented in the wake of Shelby, will be on trial this September.
While the U.S. Supreme Court — now complete with Donald Trump’s justice — will likely ultimately decide the fate of these laws, Goodlatte and other Republican leaders in Congress shouldn’t be let off the hook for investigating what several federal courts have now called intentional racial discrimination.
We wrote to Goodlatte and Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, R. Iowa, last July when some of the most damning decisions were being handed down by the courts, urging them to hold hearings on the issue and to consider bipartisan bills to help restore the VRA. They did not respond to our letters, did not hold hearings, and have not acknowledged, in the wake of these rulings, that there’s a need to address voting rights.
Chairman Goodlatte claimed he was willing to look at new evidence of voting discrimination. Given the many recent examples, he needs to honor his promise and hold a hearing to examine this new evidence. When bills are reintroduced in this session of Congress, he and Chairman Grassley should consider those too. Claiming there’s no evidence of modern-day voting discrimination is no longer acceptable — especially if you refuse to investigate it.