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As Incoming Judiciary Chairman, Goodlatte Will Face Immigration, Criminal Law, Civil Rights

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by as early as next week whether it will take up a case examining the constitutionality of a key section of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, which requires all or parts of 16 mainly southern states — including Goodlatte’s home state of Virginia — to receive “preclearance” from the Justice Department before they can change their voting laws. Goodlatte supported the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (PL 109-246), but civil rights groups say they are on high alert if the court makes any changes in what they see as an essential law needed to prevent discriminatory proposals in the states.

“There will need to be a response if, in any way, the Supreme Court would do anything that would weaken” Section 5, said Hilary Shelton, head of the Washington bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “That [response] would land smack-dab in the middle of the Judiciary Committee.”

While Shelton called Goodlatte a “very thoughtful person,” he said the NAACP finds the Republicans’ voting record troubling. The organization gave Goodlatte an “F” on a scorecard of 20 bills it considered priorities in 2011 and Smith received the same mark. The key question will be Goodlatte’s willingness to work with Judiciary’s ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr., Mich., and other Democrats, Shelton said.

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