Sensenbrenner House Floor Statement on Voting Rights Act Extension
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) delivered the following remarks during today’s House floor debate on H.R. 9, legislation that would extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years:
“I rise in strong support of H.R. 9, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. H.R. 9 amends and reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years, several provisions of which will expire on August 6, 2007 unless Congress acts to renew them. I was proud to lead Republican efforts to renew expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 1982, and I am pleased to have authored this important legislation to do the same a quarter century later.
“The Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965 to address our country’s ignoble history of racial discrimination and to ensure that the rights enunciated in the Constitution became a practical reality for all Americans. Since its 1965 enactment, the VRA has been reauthorized in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 1992, each time with strong bipartisan support.
“The right to vote is fundamental in our system of government, and the importance of voting rights is reflected by the fact that they are protected by five separate amendments to the Constitution, including the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments. However, history reveals that certain States and localities have not always been faithful to the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution, and some have tried to disenfranchise African–American and other minority voters through means ranging from violence and intimidation to subtle changes in voting rules. As a result, many minorities were unable to fully participate in the political process for nearly a century after the end of the Civil War.
“The VRA has dramatically reduced these discriminatory practices and transformed our Nation’s electoral process and the makeup of our Federal, State, and local governments. Since its enactment, the VRA has been instrumental in remedying past injustices by ensuring that States and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination address and correct these abuses and, in some instances, stop them from happening in the first place.
“Section 5 prohibits States with documented histories of racial discrimination in voting from changing election practices and processes without first submitting the changes to the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia. Section 5 has helped ensure minority citizens in these covered jurisdictions have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. As a result of Section 5 and other provisions of the VRA, minority participation in elections as well as the number of minorities serving in elected positions has increased significantly and many of the Members here today are personal embodiments of those changes.
“Last summer, I, along with Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Conyers and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Watt, pledged to have the VRA’s temporary provisions reauthorized for an additional 25 years. Over the last seven months, the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution examined the VRA in great detail, focusing on those provisions set to expire in 2007.
“In addition to gathering evidence of ongoing discriminatory conduct, the Subcommittee examined the impact two Supreme Court decisions, Bossier II and Georgia v. Ashcroft, have had on Section 5's ability to protect minorities from discriminatory voting changes, particularly in State and Congressional redistricting initiatives.
“Based on the Committee’s record, H.R. 9 includes language that makes clear that a voting rule change motivated by any discriminatory purpose cannot be precleared, and clarifies that the purpose of the preclearance requirements is to protect the ability of minority citizens to elect their preferred candidates of choice. These changes restore Section 5 to its original purpose, enabling it to better protect minority voters. In addition, H.R. 9 reauthorizes Section 203 for an additional 25 years ensuring that legal, tax-paying language-impaired citizens are assisted in exercising their right to vote.
“The Committee record that formed the basis for this legislation demonstrates that while the VRA has been successful in protecting minority voters who were historically disenfranchised in certain parts of the country, our work is not yet complete. Racial discrimination in the electoral process continues to exist and threatens to undermine the progress that has been made over the last 40 years.
“I reserve the balance of my time.”