GOP again has its sights on the voting rights act

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 2/29/2012, 7:45 a.m.

Despite the solid bipartisan support that the act got in prior congresses and from GOP presidents, it has always been more controversial than many have believed.

The popular myth is that congressional leaders were so appalled and enraged at the shocking TV clips of Alabama state troopers battering civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., in April 1965, that they promptly passed the landmark law that restored voting rights to Southern blacks.

What’s forgotten is that the marchers were there in the first place because the bill was badly stalled in the Senate and the House. It took nearly five months to pass the bill.

Then Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., heaped amendments on the bill that included scrapping the poll tax ban, adding exemptions and escape clauses for Southern counties, and excluding all states outside the South. House Republicans tacked more amendments on the bill to weaken it. The fight over these amendments dragged on for weeks in Congress.

The biggest fight, though, was over the poll tax ban. The tax was the most odious and hated symbol of Southern racial exclusion. Civil rights leaders were enraged when the Senate refused to eliminate the poll tax, arguing that it wouldn’t pass constitutional muster. House leaders agreed.

There’s no real threat that a majority in Congress will switch gears and vote to scrap the act in the immediate future. However, the action of many state officials, attorneys general and the always looming shadow of the Supreme Court are strong warnings that the Voting Rights Act could again be in the sights of the GOP.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.