Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during a hearing on Wednesday that a bill seeking to revive provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were recently struck by the Supreme Court has “problems” because it may prevent states from enacting a common form of voter suppression law. The proposed fix to the Court’s decision, according to Grassley, “seems to create only a fig leaf of protection for legitimate voter ID laws,” and it “arguably . . . contains a backdoor mechanism that will be used to negate legitimate voter ID laws.”
There is no such thing as a legitimate voter ID law. Although proponents of these laws often defend them because by claiming that they are necessary to combat voter fraud at the polls, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. What voter ID laws do accomplish, however, is that they prevent many low-income, student and minority voters from casting a ballot, all of which are demographic that tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans.
Grassley previously suggested that he will hold the Voting Rights Act fix hostage unless it contains a carve out protecting voter ID laws — he said at a hearing last July that any bill responding to the Supreme Court’s decision “should not threaten common-sense measures to ensure the integrity of voting, such as constitutional voter identification laws.” The proposed legislation, however, does contain a carve out for voter ID laws — it provides that these laws may not count towards the new formula that will be used to determine which states must “preclear” their voting laws with federal officials before those laws take effect. Grassley’s comments on Wednesday, however, suggest that this compromise provision is not enough to earn his support for the bill.
Other statements by Republican senators yesterday should trouble voting rights supporters hoping for bipartisan support for the bill. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said the fix is “clearly unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s precedents.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said there will be a “risk of manipulation” if the Justice Department regains its ability to screen voter suppression laws. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused the Justice Department of using the Voting Rights Act to protect “the ability to elect Democrats.” And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that “to pass a law in the U.S. Congress that provides penalties only to some states and not to others can only be justified for the most extraordinary circumstances. And the justification no longer exists.”