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Voting Rights Act

Floor Speech

Location: Unknown


Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Michigan for yielding.

I was the principal author of the Voting Rights Act extension in 2006, which did pass this House 390-33, and unanimously was passed by the Senate.

The Shelby County case concentrates on the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and that is the section that requires pre-clearance of electoral changes in covered jurisdictions. The plaintiffs in the Shelby County case allege that since things have changed since 1965, section 5 is no longer applicable. They're wrong.

When Congress considered, in 2006, the extension of the Voting Rights Act, including section 5, the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee had probably the most extensive legislative record in the history of this Congress compiled, 12,000 pages on this side of the Capitol, numerous hearings, numerous witnesses, including those who were opposed to section 5, and even those who were opposed to the entire concept of the Voting Rights Act. So every viewpoint was heard; and the mountain of testimony, I don't think, can be equaled by any other issue that Congress has discussed, in my memory, and maybe in the history of the Republic.

I want to make two points. The first point is that all of that testimony very clearly shows that, even in the years immediately prior to 2006, there were attempts at discrimination made, mainly by local governments, to attempt to disenfranchise minority voters. And, in fact, over 700 requests for pre-clearance were denied, I believe, in the 10-year period prior to the hearings being held. So there still are attempts being made to disenfranchise minority voters, and the Congress found that; and that legislative record should be enough to persuade the Court that those of us who are elected representatives of the people had ample evidence to make a considered judgment on this issue.

The second point that needs to be made is that, right from the beginning of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there was a procedure that would allow a covered jurisdiction to bail out of section 5 coverage, and that can be done by showing that there are no attempts to disenfranchise minority voters to the satisfaction of the Justice Department. A few jurisdictions have availed themselves of the bailout provision and have succeeded and thus are no longer under section 5.

What the plaintiffs in the Shelby County case want to do is, rather than going and presenting evidence that they are not discriminating anymore and saying that they qualify for the bailout, they want to go to court to throw the whole of section 5 out. It is like dealing with this issue with a blunderbuss rather than with a rifle shot or a surgical strike.

Now, if any of the plaintiffs in this case are clean, I believe that they ought to tell the Court why they're going to court, rather than using the provisions that have been in the law for close to 50 years to bail out, because they are clean.

When I was in law school, I was always taught that when you wanted to get equity, you ought to come in with clean hands. Well, if you have clean hands, the bailout is made for you. And if you don't have clean hands, then the Supreme Court should tell you to go wash up.

The Court should uphold the Voting Rights Act, should uphold section 5, as extensively considered by Congress and reauthorized, and rule in favor of the government.


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