House OKs renewal of civil rights act
Gannett News Service
Jul. 14, 2006

Ana Radelat

WASHINGTON - The House voted Thursday to renew key provisions of legislation credited with opening the doors of political power to the nation's minorities.

"We see its impact in these halls; 81 African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American members," said House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The 390-33 vote to renew key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act followed skirmishes between Republicans from the South and others who wanted to ease or eliminate provisions of the act and other lawmakers who wanted to keep those provisions intact. "The Voting Rights Act was good civil rights legislation in 1965, and it's still good today," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., head of the House Judiciary Committee, also argued against changing the Voting Rights Act.

"Though there's much to celebrate, efforts to dilute or dismiss minority votes are still too common," he said.

Born of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the act has been amended several times over the past 40 years. Several provisions will expire next year unless they're reauthorized by Congress. The House bill approved Thursday would extend the provisions 25 years past next year's expiration.
The Senate has not yet voted on an identical bill.

One of the provisions debated Thursday requires most Southern states and dozens of counties in other states to submit proposed electoral changes to the Justice Department for approval.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., argued that the "pre-clearance" provision unfairly discriminates against the South and is "outdated, unfair and unconstitutional."

"We have repented, and we have reformed," he said.

The House rejected Westmoreland's amendment.

The White House supports the renewal of the act. So does a majority in the Senate, which plans to approve renewal of the Voting Rights Act before its Aug. 6 anniversary.