GOP Congressman Defends Holder On Reinstating Voting Rights Act In Texas


Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)

Since Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement Thursday that the Department of Justice would “ask a federal court in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” the reaction from Texas Republicans has been furious. But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who sponsored the 2006 Voting Rights Act re-authorization, backed the move as legally proper.

Though the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed that the right to vote shall not be abridged on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition servitude,” and expressly granted to Congress the power to enforce that right by “appropriate legislation,” the U.S. Supreme Court held 5-to-4 last month that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer constitutional. That portion of the law had established a formula to determine which jurisdictions were subject to “preclearance” under the act, meaning that new voting laws in those jurisdictions must be reviewed by the Justice Department or a federal court before they can take effect. Sensenbrenner has vowed to find a bipartisan Congressional fix, but others have threatened to hold it hostage to strict voter ID laws.

In the interim, Holder proposed to use a different part of the law — the still intact Section 3 — which bring Texas back under federal supervision if a court finds a recent record of attacks on the constitutional right to be free from race discrimination in voting in the Lone Star State. Texas has sought to institute a voter ID law and a redistricting map that would likely suppress minority voters. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) slammed the move as an “end-run around the Supreme Court.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the move demonstrative of a “longstanding pattern of refusing to follow the law.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) accused the Obama administration of “going around the voters and now the Supreme Court” and “bullying” his state. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) said the attempt to block Texas voter suppression efforts was an “affront to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and is hostile to the Constitution.”

But Sensenbrenner told The Hill on Thursday that these critics were misrepresenting the facts. “The [Justice] department’s actions are consistent with the Voting Rights Act,” he said, noting that Voting Rights Act still allows challenges to changes that would suppress minority voters.

“Increased litigation will be one of the major consequences of the court’s decision as courts will have to litigate more allegations of voter discrimination under Section 2 and whether jurisdictions should be ‘bailed-in’ to preclearance coverage,” he added.