Policy: Law

Congress divided on voting rights law

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The Supreme Court left it up to Congress to come up with new requirements to combat voter discrimination when it struck down a key provision in the landmark Voting Rights Act.

But with party leaders on Capitol Hill disagreeing on what to do, don't expect a sequel anytime soon to the now-defunct provision that for almost 50 years required states and jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before making changes in the way they hold elections.

Republicans, who control the House, generally say the pre-approval provision has done its job stamping out Jim Crow-era voter discrimination and is no longer necessary. And Democrats, who run the Senate, worry that without it, states might seek to reinstate or push a new wave of discriminatory voting measures previously blocked or deterred by the law.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday said his leadership is reviewing the Supreme Court decision and "trying to make some determination about a pathway forward." But while he added his team hasn't made any decisions, there is little, if any, appetite among House Republicans to act.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., meanwhile, is eager to respond to the high court's ruling, tasking Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking Democrat in her caucus, to take the lead on drafting a "set of criteria that could meet the court's judgment."

Pelosi pointed out that when the Voting Rights Act was updated and reauthorized by Congress for another 25 years in 2006, it received broad bipartisan majorities in both chambers.

"The fact that [conservative Supreme Court judges] think that this criteria should be changed - it's not the criteria from 1966. It's criteria from 2006," Pelosi said Thursday. "This [law] is fresh."

But without significant support from House Republicans - an unlikely scenario - any Democratic-led initiative is doomed.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed "the Senate will act" to address the Supreme Court's decision.

"There's general displeasure, and that's an understatement, in my caucus about what the Supreme Court did - especially in light of what happened this last election cycle with Republicans doing everything they could to suppress voting," Reid said after the high court announced its ruling Tuesday.

But Reid likely won't get the cooperation from his Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has suggested the law's pre-approval provision is outdated.

"Obviously it was an important bill that passed back in the '60s at a time when we had a very different America than we have today," the Kentucky lawmaker said Tuesday.

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