House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., opened last Thursday’s Planned Parenthood hearing in a fascinating way. Goodlatte took a moment to remember the life of former Congressman Don Edwards, who passed away earlier this month at 100, citing his “distinguished career” that included work on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).
Here’s why Goodlatte’s memorialization of Edwards was strange.
Since the distorted and fraudulent campaign against Planned Parenthood Federation of America – bolstered by selectively edited videos created by the Center for Medical Progress – began just months ago, the House has held four hearings to investigate Planned Parenthood. Between September 9 and October 8, the House Judiciary Committee hosted two of them.
But since the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the VRA in June 2013 with its Shelby County v. Holder decision, Goodlatte has done nothing to consider persistent voting discrimination in the United States.
At Thursday’s hearing, some Democratic members of the committee took notice.
Ranking Member John Conyers, D. Mich., questioned why the House was holding its fourth hearing on the issue, and why there was a need to create a new, taxpayer-funded select committee to continue the investigation. He also wondered why the Judiciary Committee wasn’t focusing on other issues, like voting rights.
“It’s important to observe all of the good work this committee could be doing instead of meeting for the second time on this subject in 30 days. And as we head into our second election season since Shelby County v. Holder, this committee has done very little – could do a lot more – to restore the enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act,” Conyers said. “This committee has too much important work to do.”
Rep. Steve Cohen, D. Tenn., made a similar statement.
“We could be talking about voting rights, something that Don Edwards voted for and greatly supported, and my friend Julian Bond – memorialized on Tuesday – championed,” Cohen said.
Cohen lamented that, on voting rights, the United States has “taken a big step back.”
If Goodlatte were serious about honoring the life of Don Edwards, he could start by holding hearings on issues that Edwards cared about – like voting rights. As The New York Times noted, Edwards said that the 1982 VRA reauthorization was the most important of the civil rights bills he worked on. President Reagan signed that bill into law, and President George W. Bush reauthorized it again in 2006.
Instead of paying tribute to Edwards with hollow statements, Goodlatte should follow the VRA’s strong bipartisan history and start taking voting discrimination seriously.