Brace yourselves: A very bad voting-rights bill is about to be introduced in Congress. Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its quite sensible decision last summer in Shelby County v. Holder striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, the Left has promised to introduce legislation in response to it. And last night the Center for Equal Opportunity obtained a copy of a “discussion draft” of the bill.
First, there isn’t any legislation needed. The Shelby County decision was aimed at only one section of the Voting Rights Act – the preclearance provision, requiring some (mostly southern) jurisdictions to get permission in advance from the federal government before making any change related to voting – and the rest of the Act remains in full force, including other, potent enforcement provisions for every jurisdiction in the country.
And, indeed, for better or worse the Justice Department and civil-rights groups are now using those other provisions to try to advance their agendas, which amount to a war on voter-ID requirements and ensuring the continued racial gerrymandering and segregation of voting districts. There’s no evidence that the Left needs more weapons in its arsenal; all that’s different in the post–Shelby County world is that now its lawyers have to prove racial discrimination before they can get court relief, which is the way that every other civil-rights law works.
The second point: Much in the draft bill has nothing to do with Shelby County at all. Rather, the Court’s decision is being used as an excuse to enact the Left’s wish-list in voting policy. In particular, the Left wants to promote its plaintiffs’ lawyers to the status of the attorney general in making civil-rights enforcement decisions. All this is a standard demand for the civil-rights groups whenever they (deservedly) lose a case and run to Congress.
The Left’s agenda is, of course, a decidedly color-conscious one. Thus, the bill itself features racial classifications, and offers protections for “minority voters” that it withholds from “nonminority” voters.
Key provisions of the bill attempt to reinstate the “preclearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act by amending another section of the Act so that it is triggered even when there has been no constitutional violation, as is now required by that section. This raises the same sort of constitutional issue that resulted in the Shelby County decision in the first place, since Congress would again be acting to limit state prerogatives even though it lacks a constitutional predicate for doing so.
What’s more, the new legislation is an attempt to ensure that the Voting Rights Act works principally as a “disparate impact” statute. This approach to civil-rights enforcement is favored by the Obama administration, as shown by its new school-discipline “guidance” this month. But that approach is not about stopping real discrimination; it’s about ensuring racial proportionality by eliminating legitimate standards and procedures.
There’s more, but you get the idea. Look for the bill to be introduced soon, with a cynical tie-in to the Martin Luther King Day weekend and support from some RINOs to make it “bipartisan.”