Members of Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act in a ceremony at the Capitol Tuesday, while lamenting last year's Supreme Court decision that declared the section of the act that requires states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal permission before changing voting procedures unconstitutional.
Several of the mostly Southern states that were held to those restrictions immediately have since made changes to their voting practices, including limiting early voting and passing voter ID laws, moves civil rights advocates say disproportionately affect minority voters.
"We shouldn't be leaving for the Fourth of July," Pelosi said at her weekly press conference, "and we shouldn't be celebrating the Civil Rights Act's passage without the passing the bipartisan Voting Rights Act."
Congressional Democrats have spent the past year pressing for legislation to undo the court's decision, introducing a bill six months ago, but failing to court Republican support. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the legislation to mark the one-year anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision.
"Not only have House Republicans refused to vote on or markup the bill, but they refuse even to hold a hearing," Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., charged at the hearing Wednesday. "This is unfortunate because the Voting Rights Act has never been a partisan issue. From its inception and through several reauthorizations, the Voting Rights Act has always been a bipartisan effort."
In fact, Leahy said, the previous reauthorization, in 2006, passed the House 390-33 and was signed by President George W. Bush.
The new legislation, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, would make all states eligible for the existing protections in Section 5 of the original law, which requires states with repeated violations of voting rights to delay changes to election procedures pending the approval of the Justice Department.
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