“Americans continue to safeguard voting rights for every citizen, and increased voter turnout reflects that commitment.”
WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following opening statement today during the subcommittee hearing on the Voting Rights Act.
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Collins: The right to vote is of paramount importance in a democracy. Its protection from discriminatory barriers has been grounded in federal law since the Civil War, and more recently through the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a single part of the Voting Rights Act — section 4. That provision automatically put certain states and political subdivisions under the act’s section 5 “preclearance” requirements. Those “preclearance” requirements prevented voting rule changes in covered jurisdictions from going into effect until the new rules had been reviewed and approved, either following a lawsuit in D.C. District Court or, more often, by the Department of Justice.
When the Voting Rights Act was first enacted, section 4 identified the jurisdictions automatically subject to these special “preclearance” requirements according to a formula. The first part of the formula provided a state or political subdivision would be covered if it maintained on November 1, 1964 a “test or device” restricting the opportunity to register and vote. The second piece provided a state or political subdivision would also be covered if the census director determined less than 50 percent of persons of voting age were registered to vote on November 1, 1964 or less than 50 percent of persons of voting age voted in the November 1964 presidential election.
In its Shelby County decision, the Supreme Court struck down these automatic preclearance provisions, ruling the original coverage formula was, “based on decades-old data and eradicated practices . . . . In 1965, the States could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continue[d] to treat it as if it were.” The court further criticized section 4’s formula as relying on “decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems, rather than current data reflecting current needs.”
In Shelby County, the Supreme Court only struck down that single outdated provision of the Voting Rights Act. Significantly, other very important provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in place, including sections 2 and 3.
Section 2 applies nationwide and prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or the ability to speak English. Like other federal civil rights laws, section 2 is enforced via federal lawsuits. The United States and civil rights organizations have brought section 2 cases in court and may do so in the future.
Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act also remains in place, authorizing federal courts to impose preclearance requirements on states and political subdivisions that have enacted voting procedures treating people differently based on race in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. If the court finds a state or political subdivision treated people differently based on race, the court has discretion to retain supervisory jurisdiction and impose preclearance requirements on the state or political subdivision, as the court sees fit, until a future date.
This means the state or political subdivision would have to submit all future voting rule changes for approval to either the court itself or the Department of Justice before enacting those changes. Per the Code of Federal Regulations, “Under section 3(c) of the [Voting Rights] Act, a court in voting rights litigation can order as relief that a jurisdiction not subject to the preclearance requirement of section 5 preclear its voting changes by submitting them either to the court or to the Attorney General.”
Again, section 3’s procedures remain available today to those challenging voting rules as discriminatory. In 2017, for example, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal issued an opinion requiring the Justice Department to monitor the city of Pasadena, Texas, ruling it had intentionally changed its city council districts to decrease Hispanic influence. The city, which the court ruled has a “long history of discrimination against minorities,” was required to have its future voting rules changes precleared by DOJ for the next six years, during which time the judge “retains jurisdiction . . . to review before enforcement any change to the election map or plan that was in effect in Pasadena on December 1, 2013.” A change to the city’s election plan can be enforced without review by the judge only if it has been submitted to the attorney general and DOJ has not objected within 60 days.
Americans continue to safeguard voting rights for every citizen, and increased voter turnout reflects that commitment. In my home state of Georgia, voter turnout is expanding mightily. Between 2014 and 2018, turnout among Hispanic and African-American voters has soared, increasing by double digits in a state that more and more Americans are choosing to call home.
I look forward to helping ensure the ballot box remains open to all eligible voters, and I’m grateful to hear from our witnesses today.
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