Virginia Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined his colleague Rep. John Lewis and other civil rights leaders to commemorate the 48th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
“I am proud to participate in this year’s civil rights pilgrimage alongside Congressman John Lewis, who courageously paved the way for a better life for future generations,” Cantor said in a statement released this week. “We have the opportunity to come together and celebrate this powerful moment in history. I look forward to visiting the sites of so many landmark civil rights events and reflecting on the sacrifice that shaped the greater democracy we live in today.”
With the Republican-driven efforts to suppress minority voters in recent years, it’s refreshing to see a conservative join the event. Cantor has shown his appreciation for the history of the civil rights movement before. In 2012 he fought to have the Selma March chronicled by the House historian by collecting video testimony.
He said at the time that he wanted a record of the experiences of those congressional members who participated in the freedom march, admitting that, “the country didn’t always get it right” and reiterating ”our commitment to equal rights.”
But at this time, as the Supreme Court considers a major challenge to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act–the very law Lewis and others were fighting for that day–it’s worth asking how Cantor feels about that legislation?
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia made headlines this week as he called the law a “racial entitlement” and Chief Justice John Roberts has repeated suggested the law is outdated.
Requests to Cantor’s office for his current stance on the Voting Rights Act went unanswered Friday. So instead, we took a look at the last time Cantor voted on the act. He was one of the 192 Republicans who voted for the last re-authorization of the bill in 2006 (not one of the 33 Republicans who voted against it), but he also voted for four failed Republican amendments designed to weaken it. Those include:
- The Norwood Amendment, which sought to “revise the formula” that determines which states and jurisdictions will be covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
- The Gohmert Amendment, which would have shortened the re-authorization from 25 years down to only ten years.
- The King Amendment, which would have struck down the section of the bill requiring bilingual ballots under certain circumstances.
- The Westmoreland Amendment, which wanted to create an “expedited procedure for States and jurisdictions to bail out from coverage under the pre-clearance portions.”
In other words, while Cantor supported the Voting Rights Act, he wanted to get rid of ballots that help non-English speakers, and only reauthorize the act through the year 2016.
His support for the Norwood and Westmoreland amendments may be the most interesting in light of this week’s hearing, as Justice’s debate the merits of pre-clearance and the jurisdictions covered by it. His voting record seems to indicate he’d side with Roberts or Scalia before, perhaps, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
His colleague, Speaker John Boehner, hedged his support for the law on Sunday’s Meet the Press, calling it ”something that has served our country well” and admitting there’s an argument “over a very small section” of the law, but refusing to indicate where he stands.
As Congressman Lewis said on PoliticsNation this week, ruling Section 5 unconstitutional would be “a dagger in the heart of the democratic process.” We hope as he marches alongside Lewis today, Cantor feels the same way.