A Sea Change in Republican Presidential Attitudes on the Voting Rights Act

In July 2006, President Bush signed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in a ceremony praising the participation of civil rights leaders, including family members of Dr. King. The bill passed 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.  Although there were Republican members of the House and Senate who voiced objections that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring states with a history of discrimination to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting rules) violated principles of federalism, President Bush did not mention those objections or give them any credence.

Tonight’s South Carolina Republican presidential debate indicates that things have changed dramatically.  Fox News’s Juan Williams asked Texas governor Rick Perry about whether the federal government still has a role to play in protecting voting rights in a state like South Carolina, which blocked African Americans from voting.  He specifically mentioned the DOJ’s denial of preclearance of South Carolina’s voter i.d. law, and and South Carolina’s threat to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.  (Watch the video.)

Juan Williams: Are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?”

Governor Perry responded: “I’m saying that the state of Texas is under assault by the federal government.  I’m saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration. When you look at what this Justice Department has done, not only have they taken them to task on voter i.d.,…”

Mark my words: this is a major change in Republican presidential attitudes toward the Voting Rights Act, and the coalition which held together to get the 2006 Voting Rights Act reauthorization has collapsed.


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