Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Rebellion Stalls Extension of Voting Rights Act

Expand Messages
  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/22/washington/22vote.html Rebellion Stalls Extension of Voting Rights Act By CARL HULSE WASHINGTON, June 21 — House
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 22, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Rebellion Stalls Extension of Voting Rights Act

      WASHINGTON, June 21 — House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a
      planned vote to renew the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday after a
      rebellion by lawmakers who said the civil rights measure unfairly
      singled out Southern states and unnecessarily required ballots to be
      printed in foreign languages.

      The reversal represented a significant embarrassment for the party
      leadership, which had promised a vote to extend the act, the 1965 law
      that is credited with ending rampant discrimination at the polls and
      electing black officeholders throughout the South. Early last month,
      House and Senate leaders of both parties gathered on the steps of the
      Capitol in a rare bipartisan moment to celebrate its imminent approval.

      But just hours before the vote was to occur Wednesday, lawmakers
      critical of the bill mutinied in a closed morning meeting of House
      Republicans, raising sufficient objections to prompt the leadership to
      pull the bill indefinitely.

      Several lawmakers said it was uncertain whether a majority of
      Republicans would back the legislation without the changes sought by
      critics, and under the House leadership's informal rules no bill can
      reach a vote without the support of a majority of the Republicans.

      "A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who
      are trying to do away with it," said Representative Lynn Westmoreland
      of Georgia, who said it would be unfair to keep Georgia under the
      confines of the law when his state has cleaned up its voting rights
      record. "But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional
      enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court."

      Despite the resistance, the Republican leadership issued a statement
      pledging to move ahead quickly with a vote once Republicans were given
      additional time to work out their differences.

      "While the bill will not be considered today, the House G.O.P.
      leadership is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation
      as soon as possible," the leadership said in the statement.

      Democrats and civil rights groups expressed strong disappointment in
      the change of plans, particularly given what appeared to be a
      bipartisan consensus to push ahead before major elements of the law
      expire in the middle of next year. The renewal would be for 25 years.

      "We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about
      whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying
      consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with
      partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue," said
      Representative Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat who is the
      chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

      Democrats said they were holding their political fire to some degree
      in the interests of winning passage of the measure, but they predicted
      it could become a significant political issue if the fight dragged on
      too long.

      The delay marked the second time in days that House Republicans had
      pulled back on legislation. On Tuesday, the leadership announced it
      would hold hearings this summer on immigration policy before trying to
      negotiate legislation that differs from the Senate.

      President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in
      August 1965 after a string of violence in Southern states resulting
      from deep resistance to voting by blacks. The law instituted a
      nationwide prohibition against voting discrimination based on race,
      eliminated poll taxes and literacy tests, and put added safeguards in
      regions where discrimination had been especially pronounced. Those
      included a requirement for the Justice Department to review any
      proposed changes to voting procedures to judge if they would be

      That "preclearance" requirement would be retained for the nine states
      entirely covered by the law, most of them in the South, and parts of
      seven others. But Mr. Westmoreland and other Southern Republicans said
      their states have made great strides in voting access for members of
      minority groups, while some of the most recent irregularities have
      taken place in places exempt from the requirement.

      "The hanging chads down in Florida, that jurisdiction is not covered,"
      he said.

      Advocates of the act say the history of discrimination in the covered
      states justifies their special status and that leaders who believe
      their jurisdictions should be exempt can apply to "bail out" through a
      federal review.

      "The fact of the matter is that you have a small group of members who
      have hijacked this bill, and many of these individuals represent
      states that have been in violation for a long time," said Nancy M.
      Zirkin, deputy director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
      "We believe these individuals do not want the Voting Rights Act

      The Republican leadership of the House and the Senate decided earlier
      this year to proceed speedily with the renewal to put to rest fears
      that Republicans intended to let it expire next year, and to try to
      make political inroads with minority groups. If the act is allowed to
      expire, Democrats will almost certainly accuse Republicans of trying
      to turn the clock back on civil rights.

      But Southern lawmakers, mainly from Georgia and Texas, continued to
      push their objections, with some suggesting the House hold off action
      pending a Supreme Court ruling on a Texas redistricting case.

      A new problem arose as some Republicans, already caught up in a fight
      over immigration policy, began raising questions about a requirement
      for bilingual ballots in cases where political jurisdictions meet a
      certain threshold for citizens who struggle with English.

      Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, has pushed a proposal
      to eliminate that plan, arguing that naturalized citizens should have
      had to prove English proficiency as part of their citizenship test and
      that American-born speakers of other languages are entitled to
      assistance at the polls.

      "There is no need to print ballots in any language other than
      English," Mr. King said Wednesday.

      But the leadership did not allow him to offer the provision, angering
      some Republicans. Lawmakers and aides said that Representative F.
      James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who is the chairman
      of the Judiciary Committee, also left Wednesday's meeting without
      answering questions about the bill, angering others. In the resulting
      tumult, the leadership decided to delay the vote.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.