A national civil rights group is calling out Utah Congressman Rob Bishop for what it calls his hypocritical actions regarding the Voting Rights Act.
Bishop voted for the renewal of the VRA in 2006, but since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the act last year, a new bill is before Congress to address the Supreme Court’s concerns and continue federal voting rights protections.
Bishop has been silent on the bill so far and the group, Bend the Arc, says that is the same as a "no" vote. The bill is currently stuck in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee and House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have said they will move it forward once it is shown to have broad bipartisan support.
So far, 22 House members have signed on as co-sponsors, but only eight of them are Republicans, so, according to the House leaders, the bipartisan requirement has not been met.
A press release from Bend the Arc, a self-described "Jewish Partnership for Justice," asks Bishop: "What’s changed?" He voted for the act’s renewal eight years ago and now his silence is supporting the opposition to it.
"To see a lawmaker be so fickle with our most fundamental right is puzzling, and not in a good way," said Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc. "I would like to ask Rep. Bishop: What happened in the last eight years that convinced you that we no longer need to protect the right to vote?"
Bishop’s spokesperson, Melissa Subottin, said that with 4,700 bills before Congress, the fact that Bishop doesn’t attach his name to each of them does not indicate support or opposition. "The [critics’] premise is incorrect," she said.
Bishop is one of 67 members of the House who voted to renew the act in 2006 but has not agreed to be a cosponsor for the new Voting Rights Act.
Bend the Arc is putting pressure on each of those representatives by alerting the local media in their districts to the apparent flip-flop on the issue.
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 as part of the sweeping civil rights legislation pushed through by then-President Lyndon Johnson. It since has been renewed four times and signed into law by presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — all Republicans.
But last June, the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the act, removing what had been a tool designed to combat racial discrimination in voting.
Under Section 5 of the law, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination must seek pre-approval of changes in voting rules that could affect minorities. The process, known as "preclearance," blocks discrimination before it occurs, according to a summary of the law by the Brennan Center for Justice.
In Shelby County vs. Holder, the court invalidated Section 4, which determines the states and localities covered by Section 5. The court ruled that current conditions require a new coverage formula.
So in January, Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced the Voting Rights Act Amendments that would require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated Voting Rights Act violations to preclear election law changes, expand courts’ ability to subject jurisdictions to preclearance, create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes, enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory election measures and allow federal observers to monitor elections.
Soon after the Supreme Court’s decision last year, a number of states introduced legislation requiring strict ID laws and cutting back the number of days the polls would be open.
That makes passage of the new act critical because some states already are attempting to restrict voting, said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action Committee.
"We have reached out to every Republican member. We have to move this, but it will not move without their (Republicans’) support," said Susskind. "We have to wonder if this is an intentional strategy (to allow states to restrict voting)."
What has changed since Bishop’s 2006 vote is the occupant of the White House. Renewing was fine among Republicans when Republican George W. Bush, who enjoyed strong support from Latino voters, was president. Now, Democrat Barack Obama, with the overwhelming support of minorities, is president.
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