Memo to Cooch: Check the Voting Rights Act

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    The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has written a letter to Ken Cuccinelli explaining that the Voting Rights Act requires Virginia to notify the federal government and get clearance before any changes in the method of reinstating a felon’s right to vote.

    It appears that the McDonnell administration didn’t bother to research that basic fact when it announced that it would make felons who have paid their debt to society write an essay and submit it to the governor’s office before they could be considered for restoration of that right. As we all know, the uproar that came so closely on the heels of McDonnell’s Confederate Month declaration caused an immediate backpedal.

    McDonnell’s office rescinded the first announcement and said no decision on the matter had been made, even though the first announcement had said that some people had already been informed that they would have to write an essay. Now, the Washington-based lawyers committee is telling the governor what his attorney general should have pointed out before any such announcement was made; i.e., it would be illegal to change the policy without prior federal notification.

    Perhaps if Ken Cuccinelli would put his attention where it belongs – being the objective lawyer for the state – he could have avoided the governor looking yet again as if he were acting out of prejudice. Instead, he evidently has himself and his office tied up with his misguided suits against the federal government.

    Because Virginia was one of the states that had laws designed to make it extremely difficult – if not impossible – for black citizens of the state to vote, it is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Justice Department or a three-judge panel of the D.C. District Court has to pre-clear any change in voting qualifications or procedures for granting the right to vote.

    The Supreme Court upheld that part of the act in a 1969 case from Virginia, Allen v State Board of Elections. At issue was an attempt following the passage of the Voting Rights Act by Virginia and Mississippi to change from district legislative reprresentation to at-large representation, an action that would effectively dilute black votes so as to make them meaningless.

    The ruling of the court was a landmark interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, and I fail to see how someone in the attorney general’s office didn’t know that – unless no one in the governor’s office bothered to have Cuccinelli’s office look at the proposal. If that is the case, then McDonnell either needs to brush up on his law or he needs to hire people at least vaguely aware of the laws covering the individual right to vote.

    No one has said that it would be illegal to require a written essay from a former prisoner outlining his or her civic activities and religious views. The process of changing the way Virginia reinstates voting rights simply requires review on the federal level.

    The whole thing again makes the administration of the new governor appear unaware of the ramifications of its actions. It was a dumb thing to announce because it is transparently an attempt to closely control who does and who does not get back the right to vote. Heck, it reminds me of middle school punishment, sort of like making someone write an esay on “Why I Should Obey School Rules.”

    The McDonnell administration is running out of the ability to use the justification that these glitches which cast an extremely bad light on Virginia are because they are new to the job. First, Bob McDonnell could prove that he is very serious about governing the Commonwealth if he reined in Ken Cuccinelli and told him to stick to the job he was elected to: being an objective interpreter of state and federal law for the citizens and state agencies who are his clients. Absolutely no one appointed Cooch the interpreter of the state-federal power relationship.

    Sometimes I wish someone would tell Cuccinelli that John C. Calhoun died in 1850, and no one in this state wants or needs another Calhoun.

    • jack

      They were judged and found GUILTY!  PREjudice would be restricting voting rights BEFORE they were convicted.

    • jack

      …is a much better idea than our current winner-take-all system, in which the only way to get “majority-minority” districts is by gerrymandering.  The problem was in it’s implementation.  The proper way is to allow each citizen to cast as many votes as he has representatives, and to cast them any way he wants, including all for one candidate.

      That last part is key.  (It was proposed by one of Clinton’s nominees — a Black woman whose name, I am sorry to say, has escaped me.)  Blacks could cast all of their votes for a Black candidate or two.  Homosexuals could do the same, as could Libertarians.

    • kindler

      What a radical concept!  Here I thought the job of the AG was to go to tea party rallies and file frivolous lawsuits to score political points.

    • Glen Tomkins

      “… John C. Calhoun died in 1850, and no one in this state wants or needs another Calhoun.”

      I would agree that we need another advocate of state interposition, or nullification, about as much as we need a hole in the head.  But as far as there being no one in this state who wants such, I think you have to concede that the election of 2009 says otherwise.  It strongly suggests that, not just some people, but a majority of those who bothered to vote, want exactly another Calhoun.

      Has Cuccinelli said or done anything more radical, on any subject in general, or on states’ rights in particular, that is one iota more radical than what he said before the election?  Did he have any other quality or qualification whatever that might have prompted voters who didn’t intend to bring the crazy to vote for him rather than his opponent?  What is there to Cuccinelli but the crazy?

      You can fool a majority of the people who choose to vote some of the time, and 2009 was one of those occasions.  We need to ackowledge that and deal with it if we are help this state’s voters dig out from the infatuation that too many of them have with persisting in the Lost Cause, and the complacency that even more of them have at the prospect of allowing states’ rights enthusiasts into the highest state offices.  If we can’t get to that die-hard remnant of Confederate re-enactors, if reasoning with them is a true lost cause, then the only recourse is to make sure that the majority of people in this state who are not infatuated with foolish and criminal lost causes of the past, actually get out and vote next time.  But they will not be motivated to do that until and unless they are forced to confront the fact that voting Republican, or even choosing to not vote against the Republicans at every opportunity, is not just some reasonable, everyday alternative to voting Democratic.  The Republicans as a whole, and not just Cuccinelli, have made themselves nothing but the crazy.