Friday, August 2, 2013

Reason #299: Twisting Arms

About a month ago I mentioned the Supreme Court's neutering of the Voting Rights Act's Preclearance provision--and the fact that short of Congress fixing the provision, the Department of Justice would now have to go out of its way to challenge any and all discriminatory voting practices one at a time.

Well, a few weeks later Attorney General Eric Holder began that very process, and with a bang, not a whimper. He announced before the National Urban League last week that the DOJ was asking federal judges in Texas to subject the entire state to preclearance, on the basis of an ongoing fight over a redistricting plan that state Democrats say would disproportionately target minority voting districts--and furthermore, Holder said he plans to similarly challenge the voter-ID measure Texas famously passed within hours of the aforementioned Supreme Court decision. Holder said of the move that while Texas is the DOJ's first target in its ongoing fight to protect voting rights, "it will not be our last".

Meanwhile, Congress has been using the time that it could be spending fixing the VRA to instead fight tooth-and-nail against all of Obama's executive appointments, from the very controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief to the really-shouldn't-be-controversial-at-this-point Labor Department and EPA. Said positions (also including the ATF, which hasn't had a director since 2006) have been blocked by a constant threat of filibuster for years now, but last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid went as far as he's ever gone on his threat to change the rules of the Senate so that executive nominees were no longer veto-able (technical term, you understand). And against all odds, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans finally backed down.

Which isn't to say that most of them voted for any of the nominees in question--heavens, no. All they really compromised on was to allow the confirmations to pass on a simple majority vote, like was already supposed to be the case. And even then, Todd Jones' confirmation as ATF director took five hours of voting simply to get past cloture--closing the debate period and allowing for the vote itself, which still requires 60 votes--and only got there after Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski was badgered for several hours into changing her vote, and Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp flew in from sick leave in North Dakota to finally cast the 60th vote.

That final hurdle at last having been cleared, Jones' actual confirmation moved forward, and the first ATF director in seven years was approved 53-42. For the record, Lisa Murkowski voted "no".

Further Reading

Reason #294: So Let's Talk About the VRA

Holder Signals New Push to Gain Control Over State, Local Voting Laws

A Critical Look at Holder’s Texas ‘Gambit’

Senate confirms Todd Jones to lead ATF

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