Sen. Sessions Noncommittal on DOJ Position on Texas and North Carolina Voting Cases; Agrees to Enforce VRA Section 2

Written questions from Sen. Leahy and Sen. Sessions’ answer in connection with his nomination as AG:

21. You claim to be a champion of the Voting Rights Act because you voted for VRA’s reauthorization in 2006. But aside from this single vote, you have consistently criticized the VRA. You have called it an “intrusive piece of legislation” and have questioned its

constitutionality based on your belief that there is “relatively little present-day evidence” of voter discrimination. When the 2013 Shelby County decision struck down a central provision of the VRA, you argued that the decision was “good news…for the South” and observed that “Shelby County never had a history of denying the vote.”

a. Since the Shelby County decision, some individuals have argued that there is no need to restore the protections of Section 5 because the Justice Department can still use Section 2 to bring lawsuits against states and localities that are discriminating against voters. But at the same time, some of these same individuals have argued that Section 2 might also be unconstitutional. Do you believe that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional?

RESPONSE: First, the above question does not provide a full accounting of my statement, so I will complete it for the record. Over 30 years ago, I said that the VRA “is an intrusive piece of legislation, but I do not believe—and I have seen, and I am absolutely certain of this, that racial progress could not have been made in the South without the power of the federal courts and the federal Government.” When I testified before the Committee, I added that “[t]he Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 was one of the most important Acts to deal with racial difficulties that we face. And it changed the whole course of history, particularly in the South.” Second, and to your direct question, the Supreme Court has concluded that Section 2 is constitutional, and if I am so fortunate as to be confirmed, I will enforce this important section and others.

The current Justice Department is involved in several suits against states that have enacted severe voting restrictions that disproportionately harm minority voters. In two of these cases, courts of appeals found that voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas were discriminatory and violated the VRA.

b. If you are confirmed, will the Justice Department maintain its current position in these cases – especially since federal appeals courts have found these voter ID laws to be discriminatory?

RESPONSE: Because this case involves pending litigation in which the Department is a party, it would be unwise for me to comment further. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as Attorney General, I will thoroughly review this case in conjunction with the expert and career attorneys in the Department of Justice to make a decision about how best to proceed.

In these answers to Sen. Durbin, Sen. Sessions expresses support for voter id laws:

RESPONSE: I am not familiar with this study. I would note, however, that the bipartisan Carter-Baker Commission report, “Building Confidence in U.S. Elections: Report of the Commission on Federal Election Reform,” found that “there is no doubt” that voter fraud occurs, that “a good ID system could deter, detect, or eliminate several potential avenues of fraud – such as multiple voting or voting by individuals using the identities of others or those who are deceased – and thus it can enhance confidence,” and that “most advanced democracies have fraud-proof voting or national ID cards, and their democracies remain strong.”

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