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Can Congress Fix the Voting Rights Act?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer , left, shakes hands with Lewis before the start of a Congressional Black Caucus news conference Tuesday to discuss the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act. Rep. Steven Horsford is pictured at center.

Lewis continued: “We made progress, yes, but we’re not there yet. It is still needed today in Alabama and throughout the other states in the old confederacy and other parts of our country.”

But Sessions isn’t the only one who appears to disagree with Lewis.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was “honestly ambivalent” about the need for Congress to rewrite the law.

“The truth is, I think the same rules ought to apply to everyone, and under Section 5 they do not,” he said. “Under the old formula, that dated back to 1965, they didn’t take into account the changes in the country, including places like Texas, where now minorities are being elected in greater numbers and minority rights are protected, so it strikes me that we ought to declare victory that Section 5 has worked, that the country has changed dramatically, and now we ought to have a uniform rule for everybody.”

Most Republicans interviewed by CQ Roll Call said they were not yet familiar enough with the Supreme Court’s decision to say whether a new formula is needed or whether preclearance should cease to exist.

Despite some expected resistance, Democrats and at least one House Republican leader have vowed to try to fix the law. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., committed to bringing up legislation in his panel. However, sources say any bill would have an uncertain future in the Senate and a potentially tough path in the House.

Still, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., released a statement Tuesday vowing to work with Lewis and other lawmakers on an updated Voting Rights Act.

“My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all. I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected,” Cantor said.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, also committed to working on a bill in a bipartisan way Tuesday, but she did not have specifics on the details of those plans.

She said she hoped Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., would take the mantle from Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., who was the caucus’ point person on the VRA in 2006. Watt has been nominated for an administration post.

“We will work with the coalition ... our leadership and we have friends on the Republican side who are very supportive of us as well, so we will probably try to come together on a piece of legislation and introduce it in a bipartisan way,” Fudge said.

She said she hoped the administration would act while Congress tries to sort through legislative options.

Advocates of the law note that since 1982, the vast majority of federal lawsuits in which voter discrimination was substantiated came from states covered by the preclearance formula, according to a 2006 review by Justice Department historian Peyton McCrary and the National Committee on the Voting Rights Act.

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