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House GOP leaders put off Voting Rights Act renewal after southerners balk

[JURIST] House GOP leaders on Wednesday indefinitely postponed consideration of the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 [HR 9 IH text], which would renew provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [text] for an additional 25-year period. The unexpected decision to remove the bill from floor debate came after Republicans from southern states complained during a private leadership meeting that the reauthorization unfairly focuses federal oversight on their states. One provision set to expire in 2007 requires that states and counties with a history of discrimination secure Justice Department or court approval before changing voting procedures. The House was scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday.

The reauthorization asserts a "continued need for Federal oversight" in certain jurisdictions due to discrimination against "racial and language minorities" in the form of "dilutive techniques" that reduce minority voting power. The reauthorization bill also voices concern over the Supreme Court decisions in Reno v. Bossier Parish II and Georgia v. Ashcroft [opinion texts; Georgia backgrounder], saying they weaken the permanent protections afforded by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [DOJ materials].

The reauthorization was introduced [JURIST report] in May by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and generally enjoys broad bipartisan support. The ACLU and the NAACP testified before the House Judiciary Committee last year on the existence of voting barriers to minorities [JURIST report], and a recent study [PDF; executive summary] completed by the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act found that minorities still face disenfranchisement at the polls [JURIST report]. In a statement [PDF text] Wednesday, Sensenbrenner said that members of the House of Representatives who have expressed concerns about holding a vote on the reauthorization bill are "misinformed" and said that the bill is something that all House members "can be proud of because it ensures that when discriminatory practices of the past resurface, they are quickly put to rest." Sensenbrenner called on House leaders to bring the legislation back to the floor "in the near future." Reuters has more.

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