MIDDLESEX -- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says he’s been consulting constitutional scholars since he’s been home in Vermont to see if they have suggestions about how to protect minority voting rights that many feel were threatened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned part of the Voting Rights Act.
Leahy, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he had consulted both liberal and conservative legal experts from around the country and he would encourage a range of witnesses at upcoming hearings of the committee.
"I have no idea what the best answer is," Leahy said Monday during an interview in Middlesex. "Then I can honestly say to both Republicans and Democrats, ‘Look, you call the witnesses you want, we’ll call witnesses. Let’s see if there is an answer,’ rather than saying this is the way it’s going to be, because it is entirely new ground."
Last week a U.S. Supreme Court split along ideological and partisan lines voted to end a requirement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get approval from the U.S. Justice Department before changing voting procedures.
The Supreme Court decision said the law’s provision that determines which states are covered is unconstitutional because it relied on 40-year-old data and did not take into account racial progress and other changes in U.S. society since the law was passed.
It’s up to Congress to come up with a new formula to determine what jurisdictions should be subject to the act.
Leahy said the scholars he has spoken with believe there could be legislative solutions. "What’s the best way? I don’t know," he said. "I’ve talked to both Democrats and Republicans and said, ‘Let’s have a real hearing."’
Some officials in the affected states said the old requirements of the Voting Rights Act were no longer needed.
The Supreme Court decision also meant that a number of state and local voting laws that had not received federal government approval can take effect.
Leahy cited a Texas voter ID law that will require voters to show state-issued identification before voting. It had been blocked by a panel of federal judges but would be allowed to take effect after the Supreme Court decision. Leahy said it’s proof that discrimination against minority voters still exists.
"That was a wake-up call to people, two hours after the decision came down, Texas moved to really limit, if you look at the face of it, voting and minorities," he said.