Dan Tokaji's Blog
Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Sunday, October 16
Voting Rights Act Hearings
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold the first of a series of hearings on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, key provisions of which expire in 2007. The expiring provisions include Section 5, which requires preclearance of changes in certain "covered" jurisdictions, and Section 203, which requires language assistance in jurisdictions with concentrations of non-English proficient voters. The committee's hearing schedule may be found here, and it appears that the hearing will be webcast. Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner, who is on record as supporting reauthorization, issued this press release last month about what the committee hopes to accomplish.

My take: With strong support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, it seems very likely that the VRA will be reauthorized. These hearings are nevertheless very important for at least two reasons. First, they give Congress the opportunity to examine whether there are ways in which the Act should be strengthened. One area of particular concern is the partisanship that appears to have infected certain aspects of the Department of Justice's decisionmaking, most recently its decisionmaking on the question of voter ID. One question Congress should examine is whether there are modifications to the preclearance process that might be made to remove or ameliorate the threat that the party in control of the White House -- and therefore the Justice Departmant -- will manipulate the process to its own advantage.

The second reason why these hearings are important is to make a record for the inevitable court challenge, in the event that the VRA is reauthorized. The Court's federalism decisions in the past few years suggest that it will be essential for Congress to establish a strong record demonstrating the continuing necessity of the Act. This record should include evidence that the Act remains necessary to prevent ongoing discrimination against racial and language minorities with respect to the right to vote.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University