POLITICS

Selma's Senator Not Really Sure What's Going On With That Voting Rights Stuff

03/11/2015 05:55 pm ET
Andrew Burton via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- It was just last weekend that people flooded into Selma, Alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights marches there -- marches that led to the Voting Rights Act.

Dozens of lawmakers made the trek, including Democrats who have been desperately seeking Republicans to help them pass legislation to restore the landmark 1965 law. The Supreme Court in July 2013 struck down a key provision that determined which states and localities with a history of suppressing minority voters had to get permission from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. The court ruled 5-4 that the section of the law was outdated, and left it to Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country warrant special scrutiny.

Lawmakers have put forward a bill that offers a solution: It would update the formula to make it apply to states and jurisdictions with voting violations in the past 15 years. But supporters have had a hard time getting Republicans to sign on, which prevented the measure from moving in the last Congress. This year, the House bill has a handful of GOP co-sponsors; the forthcoming Senate bill has none.

Asked Tuesday if he supports efforts to restore the law with historic roots in his state, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he's not sure what that's all about.

"I'm not on the Judiciary Committee. I don't follow that every day," said Shelby. "You probably need to talk to one of the people who would do the initial action there."

Shelby said he didn't read the Supreme Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act, but remembers seeing something about it in the newspaper. He said he doesn't know anything about how members of Congress are proposing to fix the law.

"No, no, no," said Shelby, when asked if he's familiar with a bill aimed at restoring the law. "But my colleagues are. I deal with banking and appropriations ... I don't know what the court did. I know what they did -- they struck down something. But let the Judiciary Committee look at that. I will listen to them."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced last year's Voting Rights Act bill and held hearings on it, has been vocal in his quest to find a GOP co-sponsor. He plans to reintroduce his bill again soon.

"I have been working for the past six months to find a single Senate Republican to join me," Leahy said Friday. "Restoring the Voting Rights Act should not be a partisan issue."

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who teamed up with Leahy in sponsoring last year's Voting Rights Act bill, told HuffPost last week that Republicans have given him different reasons for not supporting the bill. Some don't think it's necessary, he said, and others want to make broader to changes to the law.

But other Republicans may be more amenable, and the challenge for Democrats may simply be in singling them out and bringing them up to speed on the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for one, said Tuesday that he's not opposed to restoring the Voting Rights Act.

"I supported the last one," Flake said, referring to the last time Congress reauthorized the law itself. "It just hasn't been on my radar screen. I'll take a look."

Also on HuffPost:

Politicians React To Voting Rights Act Ruling
Suggest a correction
156 Comments

CONVERSATIONS