Feb 14, 2013

As GOP War on Voting Escalates, Sensenbrenner Finally Speaks

Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner;
murdered in 1964 for fighting for voting rights 
Update: As of April 2013, Sensenbrenner refuses to challenge the GOP's attack on voting as more GOP states enact laws intended to obstruct the right to vote.
Sensenbrenner attaches name on brief weeks before landmark case's orals before U.S. Supreme Court

Some two weeks from oral arguments scheduled before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rep. Sensenbrenner has finally spoken on the attempts of his party to strike down the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Sensenbrenner joined a bi-partisan group of U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary members filing an amicus brief filed earlier this month in Shelby County v. Holder (docket 12-96).

Sensenbrenner has long portrayed himself as a champion of voting rights, posturing belied by his refusal to criticize current GOP voter obstruction efforts.

Critically, Sensenbrenner and his colleagues note this month the social scientific evidence compiled by Congress when it passed the reauthorization in 2006.

Rightwing commentators and jurists have pretended that such evidence of voter obstruction and past federal attempts to protect the right to vote does not exist.

Writes Sensenbrenner on his congressional website:

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is the crown jewel of civil rights laws. It protects our most fundamental right—the right to vote. This law has empowered minorities to participate in the election process, but the threat of discrimination is not yet extinct.  In 2006, the House compiled 12,000 pages of extensive testimony. This record shows Section 5 not only worked to correct past injustices, but is unmistakably central to the continued protection of minorities’ right to vote in covered districts. I am proud of this law, and join my colleagues in ardently defending its constitutionality.
The "crown jewel" and "our most fundamental right.'

That's great stuff on voting. Attaching his name on a brief  two weeks before oral arguments is commendable.

Maybe Sensenbrenner will now come to believe that voting is the crown jewel of democracy; and then become a virtual lone GOP voice against GOP efforts in states they control where they are obstructing voters.

Asked in April 2012 why Sensenbrenner didn't speak out against the current efforts of states [like Wisconsin] enacting voter obstruction laws, Sensenbrenner's spokeperson's response is:

"I don’t have a comment for you on this, as it is a state law. But you are correct in pointing out that he was responsible for getting the VRA reauthorization passed through Congress in 2006 when he was Chair of the House Judiciary Committee."

That the whole point of the VRA: Challenging state laws (and other jurisdictions') that obstruct voters.

The feds have to protect voters against state civil rights violations.

So, for Sensenbrenner's office to say they cannot be involved or comment because a law is a state law is ludicrous. And VRA champion Sensenbrenner must know this.
On a related note, Doug Kendall reports today that a bipartisan group of former U.S. Dept. of Justice officials including Dick Thornburgh—attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—filed an extraordinary amicus brief in February eviscerating rightwingers (including the fetid Hans von Spakovsky who argues that the Supreme Court needs to strike down the Voting Rights Act.)

Notes Kendall:

"Summarizing its beef with von Spakovsky et al., the Thornburgh brief explains that:"

The Voting Rights Act is hailed across the political spectrum as the crown jewel of American liberties and a monumental legislative accomplishment. Congress recently reenacted it with overwhelming majorities. Like any statute, it is not vulnerable to challenge on the basis of baseless speculation about potential misinterpretation or wrongful enforcement. (Emphasis added)
"Ouch. To give one more specific example, Thornburgh’s brief takes dead aim at von Spakovsky’s distortions of the recent enforcement actions involving voter ID laws:"

[V]on Spakovsky . . . is wrong on both the facts and the law. First of all, among the photo ID laws passed by covered jurisdictions since 2006, more have been cleared (New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan) than not (Texas and South Carolina, the latter blocked for the 2012 election only).

Second, as a legal matter, amici’s argument relies on a misinterpretation of this Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County . . . . Crawford does not grant an automatic constitutional pass to any and all photo ID requirement. Rather, in rejecting a facial challenge . . . the Court’s analysis focused on the burden imposed on Indiana voters, which it found to be minimal; the required photo IDs were free and widely available.

By contrast, where a photo ID law imposes a disproportionate burden on minority voters and does not provide any means to mitigate that burden, Section 5 will bar its enforcement.
Concludes Kendall: "It’s not that often in Supreme Court practice that you see one amicus brief respond directly to another. But such a thoroughgoing rebuke by a conservative Republican former Attorney General against conservatives trying to make the case against the constitutionality of a federal law? We’ve never seen anything like it. Which makes the Thornburgh brief a must read for anyone following the debate over Shelby County v. Holder."

Social Scientific Evidence

The significance of the lack of social scientific evidence presented in Crawford (many jurists believe the 2008 challenge to Indiana's law as unconstitutional on its face was poor legal strategy) is that Sensenbrenner actually cites the mountain of social scientific evidence ("12,000 pages of extensive testimony") upon which Congress relied in reauthorizing the VRA.

If you take a look at challenges to Wisconsin's voter obstruction law, a mountain of social scientific evidence has been gathered so that no court could find that voters were not being obstructed illegally, per the Wisconsin and U.S. constitutions.

So, for example we read of the efforts that found military veterans (and African Americans and college students) being unable to vote because the Wisconsin GOP crafted its unconstitutional voter ID law in a highly restrictive manner—ignoring all input from good government, civil rights groups and Democratic Party members expressing alarm that registered, constitutionally qualified citizens were prevented from voting because the GOP did not like the way these voters were likely to vote—an assault against the fundamental right of our democracy that the GOP and Sensenbrenner blatantly ignore to this day.

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