Barack Obama was much more diplomatic in this year’s State of the Union speech when it came to the Supreme Court and a discussion of campaign and election issues. It was only four years ago that he very directly criticized the Court for its decision in Citizens United, leading Justice Samuel Alito, who was sitting in the audience of senators and representatives, to shake his head at the misstatements the president made about the case.
In 2014, President Obama simply claimed that “last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened,” indirectly referring to the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. He solicited support for the effort by “conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats . . . working together to strengthen it.” This is a reference to the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014, which Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) recently introduced to overturn Shelby County.
Of course, the Shelby County decision didn’t actually weaken the VRA. It simply recognized that it is 2013, not 1965, and that the South no longer needs to be in federal receivership. The Court did not touch any of the other provisions of the law that protect Americans from voting discrimination, including Section 2, which is a nationwide, permanent provision.
Obama also called for support for the recommendations of his Advisory Commission on Election Administration, which was chaired by Republican lawyer Ben Ginsburg and former White House counsel Bob Bauer.
NRO’s own John Fund analyzed their conclusions last week. The president referred specifically to the report’s recommendation that, as the president said in his speech, no one should have “to wait more than a half hour to vote.” But, as Fund pointed out, an MIT study of the 2012 election found that the average waiting time for voters was only 14 minutes anyway, so this recommendation is one that the vast majority of jurisdictions in the U.S. already meet.
As John also noted, that same report recommended expansion of early voting and absentee voting, which is not a good idea without the security measures needed to protect against fraud (like voter ID), something this president’s attorney general is dead set against. Of course, the president did not mention the best recommendation in the report: that voter-registration lists be cleaned up. Attorney General Eric Holder has refused to enforce federal requirements in the National Voter Registration Act mandating that states maintain the accuracy of their voter lists.
Finally, the president said that “it should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.” This is, to say the least, an interesting statement coming from someone who raised more money as a candidate than any other presidential candidate ever and was the first presidential candidate to forgo public funding so he could keep raising private contributions.
— Hans von Spakovsky is manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.