Voting rights experts presented sharply divergent opinions to a
House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday as members of Congress
tried to assess the impact of the US Supreme Court's decision
striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act.
Some analysts told the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil
Justice that the remaining provisions of the VRA were more than
enough to safeguard minority voting rights. Others said the high
court's action marked a considerable setback to future efforts to
fight discrimination in the United States.
"We have made amazing progress in this country over the last 50
years," said Spencer Overton, a voting rights scholar and professor
at George Washington University Law School. "Unfortunately, evidence
shows that too many political operatives maintain power by
manipulating election rules based on how voters look and speak."
Professor Overton said Congress must update the VRA and
reauthorize the section struck down by the Supreme Court.
In contrast, J. Christian Adams, a voting rights specialist and
former Justice Department lawyer, said the high court left untouched
provisions that empower private citizens, civil rights groups, and
the Justice Department to sue to block any attempt to discriminate
"Reports of the demise of the Voting Rights Act have been greatly
exaggerated," he told the subcommittee.
He added in his written comments that unless Congress could
identify a level of discrimination that reached "rampant,"
"flagrant," or "pervasive" levels, Congress was powerless to
reauthorize the so-called preclearance provision struck down in late
The comments came during the second hearing on the controversial
high court decision in two days. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary
Committee hosted a similar exchange of views about the meaning of
and potential fallout from the Supreme Court decision.
The high court voted 5 to 4 to invalidate the portion of the VRA
that designated which state and local governments would be required
to seek approval from Washington before any changes to voting
procedures or laws could take effect.
Congress passed the special provision in response to persistent
and repeated attempts in some jurisdictions in the 1960s to deny
minority voters the ability to cast meaningful ballots.
By requiring those with an egregious history of discrimination to
submit any election changes, the federal government was able to
prevent and deter discrimination. The measure was considered the
most effective civil rights law ever enacted by Congress.
The problem was that the formula used by Congress to designate
which state and local governments must submit to the special
treatment had not been significantly updated since the 1960s and
In their ruling, the majority justices said that if Congress
wished to subject the states to such treatment, the coverage formula
must be updated to reflect current conditions and current needs.
Now, the question before Congress is whether to attempt to
reauthorize the preclearance provision by developing a new formula
to identify which jurisdictions contain the most egregious
The VRA's preclearance provision helped federal officials
identify potential discriminatory provisions before they were
enacted, said Robert Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights
Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. …