Why am I so gloomy? As this week's hearings remind us, the Supreme Court is not the vanguard of the conservative movement to neuter civil rights legislation by declaring victory over racial discrimination in voting. There are those to the right of even the Chief Justice and, to them, Shelby County is just the biggest victory (yet) for a movement that has been working for decades, even before Roberts was a young Reagan Administration lawyer arguing against Section 4 of the act, to accomplish the demise of this section of the law. Now, with Shelby County in their pocket, with a Supreme Court skeptical of the need for even the most basic voter protections, and with the House in nihilism mode there is no reason to believe this movement is in a mood to compromise over voting legislation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) gets credit for trying. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said to his audience Wednesday, he rushed to hold a hearing on voting rights act before Congress' August recess to set the stage for more personal and private conversations among lawmakers and their constituents (and among lawmakers) when the session recesses. The idea is for members of Congress to gauge the temperature of voters and then return to Washington in September ready to introduce, debate and enact legislation that answers Shelby County.
The limited goal of the hearing explains why it generated so few insights. First, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), the civil rights icon, told his fellow lawmakers what they should already know about today's voter suppression laws. "It is the same face with a different mask," Rep. Lewis said, "and we cannot rest until every variation of the seed has been destroyed, and the will no longer exists." And then, directly repudiating the Court in Shelby County, he said this: "Simply said, we are not there yet, and we have seen the clock turn back before."
The next witness Wednesday was Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Ohio), representing the pre-Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Long an enabler of the Voting Rights Act, Rep. Sensenbrenner also warned against the Court's premature declaration of victory. "Voter discrimination still exists," he told his colleagues, "and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a final victory." Next to testify came Luz Urbaez Weingberg, an Hispanic office-holder in Florida who could represent the future of the Republican Party (if the party doesn't continue to alienate her with its attitude towards voting rights).
What Weinberg told the Committee is the core of the political battle to come: "The surviving Sections of the VRA will not be fully effective in protecting me and many communities in Florida," she said. "Many of the election laws and policies I have discussed today are highly likely to continue in force or to reappear on the state legislature's agenda, particularly now that the state is free to immediately implement any and every policy it adopts." A Hispanic Republican woman wants Section 4 fixed. Seems to me that should guarantee that it will be so. But in this political atmosphere, with this House of Representatives, nothing is guaranteed.