Reid: U.S. Senate to start work revising Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON — The Senate will act to revise the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the law, according to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, said the Judiciary Committee will start by holding hearings next month, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, “is going to make sure we do what the Supreme Court directed.”

Among Democrats, “there is general displeasure” with the court’s ruling, “and that is an understatement,” Reid said. “This is a dark day for the Supreme Court, but it has been pretty cloudy over there for quite some time now.”

A 5-4 court ruling invalidated the requirement that communities in 15 states must obtain Department of Justice approval before changing voting laws. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 amid racial discrimination that prevented minorities from voting in the South and in parts of a half dozen other states.

Noting the standards have not been changed since 1965, the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts directed Congress to rework the law to reflect “current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past.”

Reid said the court’s ruling was ill-timed, coming in light of debates over voter ID laws and the 2012 elections where voters in some areas reported having to wait hours to cast their ballot. He charged Republicans with “doing everything they could to suppress voting.”

Nevada Democrats in the House joined in criticizing the ruling.

Nevada Republicans remained silent.

“Voting is not a racial entitlement; it is an entitlement for every eligible voting-age citizen,” Rep. Steven Horsford said. “I am beyond disappointed to see the Supreme Court strike down vital voting rights protections contained in the law.

“Over time, voter suppression tactics have become more sophisticated but have not disappeared,” Horsford said. “Whether it is unfair voter ID laws or barriers to voter registration, we still witness attempts every election cycle to selectively disenfranchise portions of the electorate.”

Rep. Dina Titus agreed, saying, “For half a century the Voting Rights Act has protected the rights of voters. Today’s decision undermines the progress that has been made and makes it all the more important for Congress to pick up the mantle of protecting suffrage for Americans in every jurisdiction.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.