Voting rights? South? What did we
Rebellion Stalls Extension of Voting Rights Act
By CARL HULSE
Published: June 22, 2006
WASHINGTON, June 21 — House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a planned vote to renew the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday after a rebellion by lawmakers who said the civil rights measure unfairly singled out Southern states and unnecessarily required ballots to be printed in foreign languages.
The reversal represented a significant embarrassment for the party leadership, which had promised a vote to extend the act, the 1965 law that is credited with ending rampant discrimination at the polls and electing black officeholders throughout the South. Early last month, House and Senate leaders of both parties gathered on the steps of the Capitol in a rare bipartisan moment to celebrate its imminent approval.
But just hours before the vote was to occur Wednesday, lawmakers critical of the bill mutinied in a closed morning meeting of House Republicans, raising sufficient objections to prompt the leadership to pull the bill indefinitely.
Several lawmakers said it was uncertain whether a majority of Republicans would back the legislation without the changes sought by critics, and under the House leadership's informal rules no bill can reach a vote without the support of a majority of the Republicans.
"A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it," said Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who said it would be unfair to keep Georgia under the confines of the law when his state has cleaned up its voting rights record. "But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court."
Despite the resistance, the Republican leadership issued a statement pledging to move ahead quickly with a vote once Republicans were given additional time to work out their differences.
"While the bill will not be considered today, the House G.O.P. leadership is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible," the leadership said in the statement.
Democrats and civil rights groups expressed strong disappointment in the change of plans, particularly given what appeared to be a bipartisan consensus to push ahead before major elements of the law expire in the middle of next year. The renewal would be for 25 years.
"We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue," said Representative Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat who is the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Democrats said they were holding their political fire to some degree in the interests of winning passage of the measure, but they predicted it could become a significant political issue if the fight dragged on too long.
posted by Steve @ 12:35:00 AM