As part of the maneuvering over passage of a bill providing immunity to gun manufacturers for certain tort suits, Senate majority leader Bill Frist introduced an amendment that would renew the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Here’s a snippet from a New York Times report:
- Dr. Frist’s voting rights amendment, meanwhile, caught many lawmakers off guard. Dr. Frist said he decided to introduce the measure, which would have made permanent certain sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after a recent trip to Alabama and Tennessee with Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, a civil rights leader. The act is set to expire in 2007. The effort fell apart after Mr. Lewis issued a statement calling Dr. Frist’s maneuver admirable, but premature.
Other Democrats were not so generous; they called the move a political ploy to give Republicans a chance to demonstrate their commitment to civil rights, while forcing Democrats who oppose the gun bill to vote against an issue dear to them.
“It’s a convenient way to play `gotcha,’ ” said Senator Jon Corzine, Democrat of New Jersey.
Ed Still has some other coverage of this issue here.
To the extent that Senators are serious about moving such legislation, they need to move very carefully. Because it is just about inevitable that a renewed preclearance provision would be challenged in court as exceeding Congressional power to enact legislation under its powers granted by the 14th and 15th amendments, Congress will need to craft a careful evidentiary record showing that the legislation is “congruent and proportional” to covered jurisdictions’ violations of the voting rights of protected minority groups. Congress might also try alternative bases of power, such as the Guarantee Clause. (I consider these issues in in this working paper.) In any case, renewal will require careful consideration by Congress if Congress wants its legislation upheld by the courts.