The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing July 17 to consider a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision eliminating a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down Section 4 of the civil rights legislation, which specified which states, counties and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination were required to clear changes to their voting laws with the Justice Department.
In announcing the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the Voting Rights Act “a central pillar of the civil rights laws that have helped bring America’s ideals closer to reality for all Americans.”
Witnesses at the hearing will include Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was beaten by police while marching for civil rights in Selma, Ala., in 1965, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who helped steer the the landmark legislation toward reauthorization while serving as House Judiciary Committee chairman in 2006.
The names of other witnesses will be released in coming days. No one from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is scheduled to testify, according to Justice spokeswoman Dena Iverson.
The invalidation of Section 4 will make it more difficult for lawyers in the Civil Rights Division to pursue potential violations of voting rights. Before the Supreme Court’s June decision, jurisdictions affected by Section 4 had the burden of proving that changes to their voting laws would not disproportionately harm one group of voters. Now the burden of proving that a jurisdiction’s voting laws are discriminatory lies with the Justice Department.
Immediately after the court’s decision, Leahy said he feared the ruling would jeopardize the rights of racial minorities. He noted that several lower courts recently have found evidence of intentional voter discrimination in jurisdictions covered by Section 4.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also said at the time that he was disappointed by the ruling and vowed the Senate will address the court’s decision.