At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia on Monday night, Rep. Keith Ellison, D. Minn., slammed Speaker Paul Ryan, R. Wisc., for his inaction on voting rights.
“They don’t want us to vote,” Ellison said. “They want to push voter ID laws that block Black and Latino voters. Paul Ryan won’t even allow a vote to restore the Voting Rights Act.”
Here’s what Ellison is referring to:
Since the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in June 2013, Republican lawmakers in states no longer covered by the VRA have passed strict voter ID laws that disproportionately burden minority voters. Within minutes of the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted that the state’s strict voter ID law should go into effect immediately. The following day, Alabama said it would finally start enforcing the photo ID law it had passed two years earlier. And weeks later, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a monster voter suppression law (H.B. 589) that included a voter ID provision.
Just last week, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit became the fourth federal court to say that Texas’ law violates the VRA because it discriminates against Black and Latino voters. A day before the 5th Circuit’s decision, a federal court struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law as well. Speaker Ryan, who represents that state’s 1st congressional district, has been silent.
More than five months ago, Ryan told the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) that he supports a bipartisan bill to restore the VRA, but that he can’t do anything about it. The bill was introduced by fellow Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who championed the VRA’s last reauthorization signed into law 10 years ago this week.
Ryan’s refusal to act didn’t sit well with civil rights and voting rights advocates.
“Speaker Ryan appears unwilling to back his words with the necessary action. He has instead sloughed that responsibility onto House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who stands in the way of civil rights and voting rights legislation,” noted Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Chairman Goodlatte has refused to heed calls from his constituents, from the civil rights community, and from the courts that voting discrimination has flourished without the full protections of the VRA. Even as courts have found that his home state of Virginia gerrymandered districts to deny Black voting power, Chairman Goodlatte refuses to even hold a hearing on a VRA restoration.”
Ellison, a member of the CBC, revived this conversation on Monday night. While Congress is now on recess for nearly two months, Republican leadership continues to do nothing to restore the VRA or advance voting rights in any meaningful way. And as we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the VRA’s full protections, action is essential.