The civil-rights Left is very excited today that Senator Lisa Murkowski has become the first Republican to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act, the second bill that has been introduced to resurrect Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was effectively struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago.
When the bill was first being introduced, I noted that it was even more extreme than an earlier bill, which was going nowhere. Indeed, according to the maps in this Nation article when the bill was first proposed, a number of states that weren’t covered under Section 5 before will be covered now – and only one that was covered before that won’t be now. And guess which one state that would be? Well, what do you know, the answer is Senator Murkowski’s home state, Alaska.
In any event, no new legislation is needed. The Supreme Court struck down only one provision in the Voting Rights Act — which was indeed unconstitutional, and which was never a permanent part of the Act anyway — and there are plenty of other voting-rights laws available to ensure that the right to vote is not violated. What’s more, the bills that have been drafted are bad legislation. For example, they contain much that has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision, and they themselves violate the Constitution by prohibiting practices that are not actually racially discriminatory but only have racially disproportionate effects.
As noted, the bill that Senator Murkowski has endorsed is even more extreme that an earlier bill that was introduced and had gone nowhere. The new bill would not, for example, exempt voter ID, and it would cover more jurisdictions than the earlier bill — indeed, more jurisdictions than the original Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. So we are to believe that there are more racist jurisdictions in 2015 than there were in 1965 — comprising half the country’s population. It’s hard to believe that the bill’s sponsors expect it to be taken seriously. More likely it is a bone being tossed to the more extreme parts of their base, who thought the earlier bill — though bad in the extreme — was not bad enough. Too bad that Senator Murkowski has signed on to it.