Tuesday, June 25, 2013

McDonnell says voting rights ruling leaves Va. in 'limbo'

English: Governor of Virginia at CPAC in .
English: Governor of Virginia at CPAC in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 3:30 pm | Updated: 3:40 pm, Tue Jun 25, 2013.
The McDonnell administration is stepping back concerns the governor expressed this morning that the Supreme Court's ruling could delay implementation of the state's new photo ID law, which takes effect in July 2014.
“As we review the Supreme Court’s opinion, it does not appear that the voter identification legislation will be delayed as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling," said Paul Shanks, deputy director of communications in McDonnell's office.
 "Much depends on whether or not Congress takes action to replace the stricken Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.  The governor was asked about the opinion on WTOP this morning minutes after the opinion came down, and he was speaking prior to fully reviewing the decision and its impact.
"We will be working with the Attorney General’s Office to determine what, if any, impact the decision will have on the implementation of this legislation in July of 2014.”
(This has been a breaking news update.)
Gov. Bob McDonnell today called the Supreme Court's ruling limiting the Voting Rights Act a “potentially monumental decision” that will leave enforcement uncertain until Congress enacts a new formula to determine which states and localities need to have election changes approved.
McDonnell said the ruling could delay implementation of Virginia's new law that will require voters to present photo ID at the polls beginning in July 2014.
“We're in a little bit of limbo,” McDonnell said on Washington's WTOP radio. “Until the Congress passes a new formula, there's nothing for us to submit to pre-clearance.”
Virginia is one of the states with a history of racial discrimination that must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal judge before changing voting laws.
Earlier this year, McDonnell signed into law two major changes to Virginia’s voting laws. One measure would require voters to present photo identification before casting a ballot. The other would give Virginia access to a federal database to verify citizenship status of registered voters.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the Republican candidate for attorney general, sponsored both measures.
McDonnell had balked Monday in saying whether he thought the pre-clearance requirement remains necessary in Virginia, but he said today, “My sense is the formula is a little bit outdated.”
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor, said he is disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision.
“For 48 years, this important piece of legislation has protected the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” McAuliffe said.
“This legislation was actually one of the few bipartisan accomplishments in Washington in recent years when it was reauthorized and signed into law by George Bush in 2006 by a vote of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.”
The court’s decision alarmed a Virginia legislator who was a foot soldier in the civil rights struggle and helped get Virginia covered under the law.
Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, said Congress needs to update and reinstate part of the federal act that forces areas with racially discriminatory histories to submit election law changes for federal vetting to safeguard minority voting strength.
Marsh said he gave the state Senate documents that got Virginia covered under the section.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor, has said that he does not think Virginia should have to seek Justice Department approval for changes to the state's legislative boundaries.
He told reporters in December 2010 that he does not see Virginia's elected leaders “returning to the kind of history that Virginia is rather infamous for.”
Cuccinelli said in a statement today that “Virginia is committed to fair elections, fair voting districts, and ensuring everyone’s vote counts.  Regardless of the court’s decision, legal mechanisms remain in place to safeguard the vote of Virginia’s citizens."
He added: "My role as attorney general is to ensure that those safeguards are followed and that Virginia's voting procedures continue to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws.”
Paul Logan, spokesman for Obenshain, said that Obenshain is confident that the voter ID legislation should have been precleared by the federal government, “and that it will withstand any and all legal scrutiny.”
State Sen. Mark R. Herring, D-Loudoun, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, called the court's decision "a step backward, and an affront to the men and women who fought for the Voting Rights Act and the countless number of Virginians whose voting rights have been protected by this legislation."
The Supreme Court’s announcement hit like a bombshell in Virginia’s community of lawyers and legal experts.
Calling the court’s decision “monumental,” Rebecca Green, professor of law at the College of William and Mary, predicts that the ruling may fundamentally change the way legislatures in formerly covered jurisdictions behave.
“Section 5 required jurisdictions to get approval before voting laws went into effect. Now, minority voting rights advocates must wait until laws go into effect – and do harm – before challenging them; a process that can take years, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and often present insurmountable evidentiary hurdles,” Green said.
A E. Dick Howard, professor of law at the University of Virginia, called the Supreme Court’s ruling “one of the most important decisions to come out of the Roberts court. It reflects the court's self-confidence and its determination to be the ultimate arbiter of what Congress may and may not do under the Reconstruction Amendments.”
Under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, covered jurisdictions may not make changes in voting procedures without getting preclearance from the Department of Justice or from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The court’s Supreme Court opinion leaves section 5 standing. But the Court struck down section 4 - the “coverage formula.”
“That formula tells us which state and localities must go through the preclearance procedures set out in section 5,” Howard said.
The formula was first devised at the time of the Act's original passage in 1965. The statute has been reauthorized several times, most recently in 2006. But the coverage formula remains essentially as it was in 1965.
“Section 5 becomes an empty shell if there is no valid coverage formula to tell us which jurisdictions must apply for preclearance,” Howard said. “From that perspective, section 5, while technically in effect, has been gutted.”
While Congress could enact a new coverage formula, Howard has doubts that the body will act on the court’s decision.
“With the whole question of coverage being reopened, how likely is it that Congress – which these days seems to agree on little else – could agree on a new formula? In the meantime, the Voting Rights Act's key provision is in limbo,” he said.
Sen. Mark R. WarnerÖ, D-Va., said he will work with his colleagues to “move quickly to put in place a fair process that ensures our elections are open to all.”
Warner, who said he is “deeply disappointed” in the court’s ruling, added that it is critical that the nation’s electoral system is open, fair and not overly burdensome.
“This is particularly important given our history of unfairly restricting access to the ballot in Virginia,” Warner said.
Timothy M. Kaine, D-Va., said Monday he believes that the Supreme Court should continue to uphold the preclearance requirement.
“Generally a court should uphold what Congress does, unless there is a dramatic violation,” Kaine said, adding that he doesn’t consider preclearance “that onerous of a requirement.”
“I think the preclearance is a relatively balanced way to guard against challenges but still allow elections to be run,” Kaine said.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-11th, tweeted that a “reactionary majority shows conservative judicial activism overturning 50 yrs of voting rights jurisprudence. Shame!”
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