The Democrats Are Walking Right into a Trap on Voting Rights Bills

From today’s Slate Online:

The battle over voting rights in Congress has entered a critical stage. The Greeks have now rolled a large wooden horse up to the gates of Troy. Some among the Trojans believe the Greek Army has left. The debate now is whether to open the gates and bring the gift into the city.

It is our strong view that that would be a mistake.

The Trojan horse in this story is an idea floated by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the key vote in the Senate for any voting rights or democracy reform. Manchin, desperate to find bipartisan support for democracy legislation, has now signaled that he believes he could secure such agreement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R.4, at least if its provisions were expanded to cover the nation as a whole. And while he has not yet said this critical part definitively, the implication is that Congress should pass that bill with bipartisan support, and leave to another day the much more comprehensive democracy reform package also being considered by the Senate just now, the For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R.1 or S.1.

The battle over voting rights in Congress has entered a critical stage. The Greeks have now rolled a large wooden horse up to the gates of Troy. Some among the Trojans believe the Greek Army has left. The debate now is whether to open the gates and bring the gift into the city.

It is our strong view that that would be a mistake.

The Trojan horse in this story is an idea floated by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the key vote in the Senate for any voting rights or democracy reform. Manchin, desperate to find bipartisan support for democracy legislation, has now signaled that he believes he could secure such agreement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R.4, at least if its provisions were expanded to cover the nation as a whole. And while he has not yet said this critical part definitively, the implication is that Congress should pass that bill with bipartisan support, and leave to another day the much more comprehensive democracy reform package also being considered by the Senate just now, the For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R.1 or S.1.ADVERTISEMENT

We strongly support H.R.4, and firmly believe that the constitution, properly interpreted, would support it. But we are also fully convinced that a clear majority on this Supreme Court would invalidate H.R.4 — even more certainly with Joe Manchin’s amendment. And because the reasons for that invalidation are so clear in the opinions of those justices, we are not convinced that offers of bipartisan support for H.R.4 are in good faith. We don’t doubt Senator Manchin’s intentions—he has long signaled his strong support for both voting rights in particular and democracy reform generally. But we are convinced that at least some on the right see an expanded H.R.4 as a simple way to give voting rights reform a temporary victory, but one certain to be undone by the Supreme Court after the sun sets on this Congress.

H.R.4 is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder sidelining section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision had required certain jurisdictions to preclear changes in voting laws, so as to give the Justice Department a chance to verify that those changes did not wrongfully impact minority voters. The Supreme Court rejected that system in 2013, finding, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, that “things had changed,” and that Congress could no longer simply presume the systematic racism that had justified the Voting Rights Act in 1965. To continue to regulate these jurisdictions in particular, Congress would have to make new findings to prove to the court that the racism of the past continues to this day.

That showing would be difficult enough, given the character of this Supreme Court. But even if it could be sustained in some jurisdictions, Senator Manchin’s idea to extend the remedy to all of America would certainly fail the Supreme Court’s test. Thus, even if Manchin could make good on his promise and get his version through Congress, it would, in our view, certainly be struck down by this Supreme Court. And Congress would have squandered its best opportunity for much-needed democracy reform by passing a proposal that is precisely contrary to what the current Court has determined is constitutional

The alternative to H.R.4 is H.R.1 — an omnibus reform package that includes, among other provisions, much more comprehensive voting rights reform, also penned by John Lewis, as well as gerrymandering reform and, for the first time ever, a way for congressional candidates to fund effective campaigns with small-dollar contributions only.

Read the complete article here.