Newkirk: Like my home state of North Carolina.
Schumer: In North Carolina, they actually found emails saying this will take away the right of blacks to vote. And, of course, it was disgusting and bigoted. I’ve been in close quarters with Justice Roberts—I’m not allowed to talk to him about any decisions, but I’m so tempted to tell him what I think of that case. I restrain myself.
I believe this is a fundamental bedrock of democracy. The Republicans have made a campaign to limit the right to vote, particularly of African Americans and other people of color, students, and poor people. And it’s an erosion of our democracy. It’s against everything America has stood for, even in the horrible days when they didn’t allow most people to vote. So I believe that we have to start standing for voting rights.
Read: The battle for North Carolina
Newkirk: How do you tackle this big issue?
Schumer: The three places we’re going to focus on are: No. 1, not only undoing the Shelby decision, but making preclearance possible for the whole country. As you know, preclearance was in a limited number of states. We would have it everywhere that the Justice Department might be able to preclear. Second, we want to do universal registration the minute any government agency touches you: Medicaid, your driver’s license, or whatever else. You’re automatically registered to vote unless you say you don’t want to be. And third, D.C. statehood. Empowering people. I’d do it for Puerto Rico too, but they’re not sure they want statehood. But D.C. has had a referendum, they want statehood, and we should have them be allowed to vote in federal elections—have congressmen, have senators, etc.
Newkirk: Why now?
Schumer: Now that we have a majority in the House, we can actually begin to start doing good things. That’s No. 1. [The Senate] can’t do everything [the House does], but we can pick our shots, and we’ll have some real leverage. Second, it’s getting worse. Because [Republicans] now control so much of the courts, and because of what Roberts did in Shelby, it’s almost free rein for these people who want to limit people’s right to vote. So that’s another reason.
I have to tell you, I don’t think Democrats have done enough on this issue over the years. We always pay lip service. But we haven’t been strong enough, passionate enough, or concerted enough to do something.
Newkirk: As unprecedented as the Shelby decision was, Roberts did give Congress a mandate to come up with a new preclearance formula to determine which states are monitored, right?
Schumer: That’s one of the things we’re gonna campaign on in 2020. Look at what Stacey Abrams did down in Georgia: make voting rights a real issue that galvanized people. And I think there’s going to be a lot more of that. I hope she runs for the Senate. If she got to the Senate, she’d be able to do more for voting rights than people have done in a long time, because she’s so smart, she’s so passionate, and she has such respect.