Will Rand Paul ‘Walk the Talk’ On Voting Rights?

Will Rand Paul 'Walk the Talk' On Voting Rights?

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he's a Republican who wants the federal government to vigorously protect voting rights. Can he bring more of his GOP brethren to that cause?

Rand Paul says he wants to give the Voting Rights Act its teeth back. 

That’s good.

The Republican senator from Kentucky, who once argued that civil rights legislation imposes an undue burden on states’ rights, apparently has changed his mind.

That’s good, too, if Paul follows up on his statements by calling his friends to the party.

During a speech at the National Urban League’s conference in Cincinnati last week, Paul said, “Not only do I support the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, I’m a Republican who wants to restore a federal role for the government in the Voting Rights Act.”

That sounds like a call for resuscitation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, gutted last year by the Supreme Court.

If so, hallelujah!  Now’s the perfect time for Sen. Paul to round up other Republicans – in both the Senate and House – to co-sponsor legislation that for decades received wide bi-partisan support and, in 2006, won unanimous backing from the Senate.

Many may recall that last June, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court effectively did away with the protections afforded by Section 5, which required covered states and jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to submit all proposed changes on voting practices to the Department of Justice or a federal appeals court for “preclearance” before implementation.  Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged then that “no one doubts” the existence of voting discrimination today, yet the Court’s decision has done nothing but exacerbate that discrimination.

Indeed, since Shelby, several states, in domino effect, have passed and implemented laws – limiting early voting, requiring photo ID, and others – that likely will result in voter suppression among groups including people of color, the poor, students and the elderly .  that have benefited most from previous electoral reforms.

Maybe Sen. Paul, as a new champion of civil rights, can turn that around. 

Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and in the House by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, and Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the Voting Rights Amendment Act  would put Section 5 back to work and cover jurisdictions with more recent violations of the Act.  It’s a modest compromise, and one that deserves bipartisan support, considering the law’s effectiveness in the past and the relatively low cost associated with its implementation.

It’s time for Sen. Paul to show his support, too.  He’s already working with Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, on legislation to assist some felons in sealing their records post-sentence to help in their job searches.  And he’s co-sponsoring a bill with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on legislation to restore the right to vote for some felons upon their release from prison.  Active support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act would further demonstrate his new belief in the restoration of a federal role for voting rights.  That would solidify his pronounced commitment – and work wonders for this country.

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