Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

Representing the 8th District of New York
 

"Hands Off The Voting Rights Act"

Feb 26, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON-On February 25, 2013, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) led a Congressional Black Caucus Special Order with Rep. Steven Horsford (NV-4) on the history, importance, and challenges to the Voting Rights Act. They were joined by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-5), CBC Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Reps. Elijah Cummings (MD-7), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), G. Butterfield (NC-1), Danny Davis (IL-7), and Donald Payne Jr. (NJ-10).

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries spoke on the House Floor in support of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The video can be viewed by clicking here: CBC Special Order- Voting Rights Act. His remarks are below:

“Let me first just thank the distinguished gentleman from the Silver State, my good friend and colleague, Representative Steven Horsford, for anchoring this CBC Special Order. I also, of course, want to thank Chairwoman Marcia Fudge for the tremendous leadership that she has continued to provide and, of course, to our whip, Steny Hoyer, for his eloquence and his leadership on this and many other issues on behalf of this great country of ours.

It is my honor and my privilege to co-anchor this CBC Special Order, this ``hour of power,'' so to speak, where members of the Congressional Black Caucus have an opportunity to speak directly to the American people today on an issue of great importance as it relates to the integrity of our democracy. There's no more fundamental issue to preserving the integrity of the great democracy that we have here in America than the right to vote. The right to vote is something that should be cherished, something that should be protected, something that should be respected. But the right to vote has not always been treated in this fashion in this Republic of ours. During the founding of this country, we know, of course, that African Americans were largely excluded from being able to participate in our democracy as a result of the conditions of their enslavement.

In 1869, this Congress came together and sent to the States for ratification the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, an amendment that was designed to remedy the situation related to the failure to meaningfully include African Americans in our democracy. It was designed to provide constitutional protection to limit the ability of States to disenfranchise individuals on the basis of race, color, or prior conditions of servitude.

Yet we understand that for about 100 years subsequent to the passage and ratification of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, it was largely evaded in many parts of America as a result of legislative schemes that were devised to prohibit or limit the ability of African Americans and other communities of color to participate in our democracy. These legislative schemes took many forms. Some have already called their names--poll taxes, ``grandfather clauses'' and literacy tests--legislative schemes devised to limit the ability of African Americans and others to participate in this glorious democracy of ours. A large part of it took place in the Deep South, but there were instances of this all over America.

Mr. Speaker, that is why the Congress came back in the midst of the turbulent era of the 1960s and passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which included a section 5 preclearance provision that was designed to require those covered jurisdictions, or jurisdictions of all or parts of 16 States, to get approval from either the Department of Justice or a three-judge Federal Court panel here in Washington, D.C., whenever any of these jurisdictions sought to change a law with respect to voting.

The rationale for this section 5 preclearance requirement was because, in these covered jurisdictions, there was a history of discrimination as it related to the franchise, deliberate schemes designed to limit the ability of American citizens to participate in our democracy; and as a result of this history, the section 5 preclearance requirement was put into place. And it has worked. Over close to five decades that it has been in effect, it is perhaps the most successful piece of civil rights legislation that this Congress has passed.

Now, as a result of its success, there are some who have contended that it is no longer a relevant provision of law, and that when the Congress came together in bipartisan fashion in 2006 to reauthorize this provision, that this body, the House of Representatives and the Senate, which passed the reauthorization 98 to 0, Democrats and Republicans, the contention is that this body exceeded its constitutional authority because section 5 allegedly, according to the defenders of disenfranchisement, is no longer relevant.

Now, in the aftermath of Barack Obama's historic election in 2008, there was a Supreme Court case involving Austin, Texas, I believe, in 2009 that was heard just a few months after his inauguration. And part of the argument that was made in that Supreme Court case by those who sought to invalidate section 5's preclearance requirement was that, as a result of this historic election of Barack Obama, race seems no longer to be an issue in America, and they pointed to the elevation of Barack Obama to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Now, of course, that was an extremely important moment in the history of our Republic. It was a substantial step forward. But the reality is that the election of Barack Obama has also served to illustrate that in America there's still some issues of race that we've got to confront.

It's interesting, because if you look at the election of Presidents since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, it's unprecedented in the aftermath of President Obama's election to have seen the level of voter suppression laws and efforts that we were forced to confront in this country. These efforts presumably are based on the thin claim that those who are advancing these laws are trying to guard against fraud. No evidence of fraud, but those who are advancing these voter suppression laws are attempting to guard against fraud.

When you look at the record, what's fascinating is that when Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, there was no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. He was reelected in 1972, no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. And then Jimmy Carter is elected in 1976, no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. And then Ronald Reagan is elected in 1980 and reelected in 1984, no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. George H.W. Bush elected in 1988, no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. Bill Clinton elected in 1992, reelected in 1996 and no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. George W. Bush elected, some would argue under questionable circumstances given the dynamics in the great State of Florida, but again, no explosion of concern related for alleged fraud. The same was true in 2004, notwithstanding some concerns in the great State of Ohio, no explosion of concern for alleged fraud. Yet Barack Obama is elected in 2008, and all of a sudden in the aftermath of this historic election there's an outbreak of concern, a pandemic of anxiety as it relates to the fraud that allegedly is taking place in America.

And so, as this chart illustrates--it is a wonderful chart that was prepared by the Brennan Center for Justice in my home State of New York, connected to my alma mater, New York University. It illustrates that since 2001, 41 States introduced 180 restrictive laws. Those States are illustrated by the red on the map. Parenthetically, a curious choice of colors, but those States are illustrated by the red on the map. Forty-one States introduced 180 restrictive laws.

And then you have 34 States introduced photo identification requirements; 17 States introduced proof of citizenship requirements; 16 States introduced bills to limit registration; and nine States introduced bills to limit or reduce early voting periods--unprecedented in the history of our democracy.

I just went through the election of several Presidents who were inaugurated post the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but, for some reason, the American people are smart enough to draw cause and effect when this President was elected. We had an outbreak of concern related to alleged fraud.

Now, thankfully, the Voting Rights Act in section 5 was in place to do something about it. I just talked about the fact that there were 41 States that introduced some form of voter restrictions.

On this map, we see that as of October in 2012 there were 25 laws and two executive actions that were passed in a total of 19 States. A large amount of this activity, as you can see on this map, Mr. Speaker, took place in the Deep South and in Texas, States that are largely covered by the section 5 preclearance requirements.

Let me just pause parenthetically and note that what's also interesting is that there were two States, Iowa and Florida, that in the past had executed through executive order reforms designed to allow those who as a result of the criminal justice system had had their ability to vote taken away from them restored through a process that had been put in place; but in the aftermath of the election of President Obama, what we saw is that in Iowa and in Florida--those two States--through executive order, they repealed those positive steps forward to make it almost impossible for those who had brushes with the law to ever be able to reengage in the ability to participate in American democracy.

These were laws that were passed. Yet, because of the section 5 preclearance requirement, not all of these laws actually were able to take effect. That's an important point as it relates to the continuing relevance of section 5's preclearance requirement. As of October 2012, approximately 12 courts either halted or blunted--they pushed back--some of those laws that States had attempted to enact.

Perhaps the most relevant example of why section 5 continues to be relevant is due to what took place in the Lone Star State, the great State of Texas, when the legislature passed what would have been the most restrictive voter identification law in the country. It would have prohibited potential voters from presenting student college identifications; they were deemed in this law as invalid. It would have prevented voters from presenting State government identification; IDs that were actually issued by the State of Texas would not have been valid under this law.

I find it interesting, particularly in light of the current debate that we're having related to how we deal with gun violence in America, that one of the forms of ID that actually would have been accepted was a license that allowed an individual to carry a concealed handgun permit. This was too much to accept for the Justice Department and for those who in good conscience seek to defend our democracy, and because Texas is a covered jurisdiction, it had to be presented for preclearance by the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel, and it was rejected. So this law, though passed, never took effect. The same thing happened in Alabama. The same thing happened in South Carolina. There is a law that was passed by the State of Florida that is under consideration. So, as a result, even though many objectively believed it was designed to suppress the vote, it did not take effect in advance of the 2012 election because it was under review by the Department of Justice and their preclearance requirement.

Mr. Speaker, in America, certainly we have come a long way, but we still have a long, long way to go. Jim Crow may be dead, but he has still got some nieces and nephews who are alive and well; and until every single descendant of Mr. Jim Crow's is dead and buried, we in the Congressional Black Caucus believe that the section 5 preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act remains as relevant today as it was when it was passed in 1965.”