Jul 18, 2013

Sensenbrenner Has Not Earned Trust on Voting Rights

Many are applauding Rep. James Sensenbrenner's (R-Wisconsin) work to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that was gutted by five Supreme Court justices last month.

Sensenbrenner is presented as the equivalent of a modern-day John Doar, a man from Wisconsin who joined the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in 1960, as noted in Gary May's important new book, Bending toward Justice, on the Voting Rights Act.

Sensenbrenner's efforts to repair the damage wrought by his GOP colleagues in the judiciary should not be accepted as genuine until Sensenbrenner acknowledges and calls for a reversal of his Party's war on voting, a crime against democracy committed at the state level.

And for that matter, he should condemn the social engineering that the five Supreme Court justices committed in Shelby County v. Holder.

Sensenbrenner's new Wisconsin colleague in the House, Mark Pocan (D-Madison), specifically called out Republicans in Wisconsin and other states as recently as yesterday.

Sensenbrenner should join Pocan.

Pocan has introduced a Constitutional amendment that would guarantee citizens' right to vote, protecting Americans against the ever-changing voter obstruction efforts now plaguing our nation, and committed by one political party—the Republican Party.

Pocan's amendment would also change the balance of power -- by altering the legal calculus for showing voters' rights are violated -- in favor of voters. As Pocan said, "There is no explicit right to vote in the Constitution. If we had an explicit right to vote, any state that passes a law that makes it harder to vote would have to prove that they’re not harming someone’s ability to vote rather than the opposite. Right now a person has to prove that they’ve been harmed by a state law. And it really changes the burden of proof on those states that pass these laws that really make it harder for people to vote."

Sensenbrenner refuses to join Pocan, both in condemning voter obstruction at the state level, and in refusing to support Pocan's proposed Right-to-Vote constitutional amendment

Instead, Sensenbrenner toes the GOP line on state Republican voter obstruction efforts, calling them "common-sense efforts to ensure the identity and citizenship of voters," (July 2012).

Common sense.

What Sensenbrenner is pursuing is a cynical inside/out con game in which Sensenbrenner takes no political risks in seeking to repair the eviscerated Voting Rights Act, while supporting Republican voter obstruction efforts on the state level.

In the last 60 years people have given their very lives in pursuit of this dream of voting in a democracy, culminating finally in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As Gary May writes:

The signing into law of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was the culmination of a struggle almost one hundred years in the making. Prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, only five states—all in New England—allowed black men to vote, and when New York joined their ranks, it required that they own property.
It is not asking much of Sensenbrenner to demand of his own party that it stop its shameful voter obstruction efforts.

Sensenbrenner should read Bending toward Justice. He might be shamed into acting.

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