During the 109th Congress, on May 2, 2006, VRA reauthorization legislation was introduced in both chambers. In the House, Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-5th WI), Representative John Conyers (D-14th MI), and Representative Mel Watt (D-12th NC) introduced H.R. 9. In the Senate, Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S. 2703. The legislation is known as the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. Before final passage, H.R. 9 had 152 cosponsors (including Representatives Conyers and Watt), and S. 2703 had 57 cosponsors (including all members of the Judiciary Committee and Chairman Specter).
After concluding an initial series of 10 hearings that March, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a final oversight hearing on Thursday, May 4, with approval in full Committee occurring on May 10 by a vote of 33-1. Representative Steve King (R-5th IA) cast the lone vote in opposition. Representative King sponsored two failed amendments on bilingual access: one that would have removed Section 203 entirely (failed 9-26), and one that would have placed a shorter, 6-year extension on the provision (failed 10-24).
While Chairman Sensenbrenner indicated his desire to have a vote on the House floor before the Memorial Day recess, opposition by a small, yet vocal, contingent of conservative Republicans forced the issue beyond Memorial Day and again beyond the July 4th recess. The major point of contention was whether amendments to the bill would be allowed on the House floor. While that was resolved by the Rules Committee, H.R. 9 was pulled from the floor before the rules for debate could even be considered – at the insistence of those House Republicans who had been stalling the bill all along. During consideration of the FY 2007 appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State (H.R. 5672) on June 28, the House formally tabled the rules for debate on H.R. 9. Also on June 28, Representative Cliff Stearns (R-6th FL) introduced an amendment to H.R. 5672 that would have stripped the Department of Justice of funds essential to the enforcement of Section 203 of the VRA. This amendment was defeated that day by a vote of 167-254. H.R. 5672 passed the following day by a vote of 393-23.
The House finally passed H.R. 9 on July 13, 2006 by a vote of 390-33. That same day, bipartisan majorities defeated four amendments that would have diluted the VRA:
- Offered by Representative Charles Norwood (R-9th GA) - altering the jurisdiction formula for Section 5 coverage – REJECTED 96-318
- Offered by Representative Louie Gohmert (R-1st TX) – shortening the reauthorization period from 25 years to 10 years – REJECTED 134-288
- Offered by Representative King – repealing Section 203 – REJECTED 185-238
- Offered by Representative Lynn Westmorland (R-8th GA) - creating preclearance exemptions for eligible jurisdictions – REJECTED 118-302
The Senate Judiciary Committee held several oversight hearings in May and June of 2006, including one focusing on Section 203 on June 13, and one focusing on the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas redistricting plan on July 10. Chairman Specter held a markup of S. 2703 on July 19, and the bill passed by an 18-0 vote. The following day, the Senate took up the legislation as passed by the House, and gave its approval that afternoon by a vote of 98-0.
On July 27, 2006, President Bush signed the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 into law.
Plans to add Cesar Chavez’s name to the law during the 110th Congress have stalled. H.R. 745 has not made it out of Committee, and while S. 188 passed out of the Senate, it has not been taken up in the House.
Updated February 26, 2008