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House GOP member: High court blundered with Voting Rights Act decision

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 8:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A House Republican lawmaker said the Supreme Court's decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, rolling back a core part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act “severely weakened” election protections.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that Roberts's majority opinion ignored provisions in the law that allow voting jurisdictions to escape coverage if they show compliance with anti-discrimination rules.

The fact that areas targeted by the law haven't qualified for that escape provision “is evidence that the VRA's extraordinary measures are still necessary,” said Sensenbrenner, 70. He was House Judiciary Committee chairman when Congress reauthorized the law in 2006.

“Voter discrimination still exists, and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a final victory,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

The hearing on the Voting Rights Act was the first by the Judiciary Committee since the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling on June 25 invalidated the formula for determining which states need federal approval before changing election rules.

The court said Congress lacked grounds for requiring some states, and not others, to obtain federal approval. Roberts's majority opinion said Congress may create a new formula based on current voting conditions in specific jurisdictions.

Less than 16 months before the 2014 election, little consensus has developed between the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Republican-controlled House on revising the landmark civil-rights law. It has been used to halt thousands of state and local voting changes, including voter-identification laws in Texas and South Carolina last year.

“No one's right to vote in any part of this great nation should be suppressed or denied, but yet we continue to see that discriminatory practice today,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, urged Democrats to propose a fix to the court's ruling.

“We could cover the whole country,” Grassley said. “We could identify jurisdictions engaging in discrimination in the 21st century.” On the day of the court's ruling, he said the law was no longer necessary because states covered by it “don't have discriminatory voting any more.”

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