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updated 7/17/2013 9:46:15 PM ET 2013-07-18T01:46:15

Democratic Senator from Wisconsin Mark Pocan outlined his plan to protect the right to vote.

On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to address the Voting Rights Act. It is the first time Congress is addressing the issue since the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the act last month in Shelby County v. Holder. With this part of the law gone, states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need the federal government’s approval before changing their voting laws.

Many states have already proposed new voting measures, such as voter ID laws, that may disproportionately disenfranchise minorities. The map below depicts the several states that have already rushed to change their voting laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict.


Democratic Senators Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Kieth Ellison of Minnesota have their own proposal to protect U.S. citizens right to vote: a Constitutional amendment.

Senator Pocan explained his plan on Wednesday while speaking with MSNBC’s Martin Bashir.

“There is no explicit right to vote in the Constitution. If we had an explicit right to vote, any state that passes a law that makes it harder to vote would have to prove that they’re not harming someone’s ability to vote rather than the opposite,” Pocan said. ”Right now a person has to prove that they’ve been harmed by a state law. And it really changes the burden of proof on those states that pass these laws that really make it harder for people to vote.”

Video: Rep. Pocan: Why Congress must fix the Voting Rights Act

  1. Closed captioning of: Rep. Pocan: Why Congress must fix the Voting Rights Act

    >> let's get right to our next guest. joining us is representative park pokan. democrat from wisconsin . some people have react to the the zimmerman verdict to suggest that racism is no longer a problem in america. it evaporated. just a myth perpetuated by so-called racial hustlers as we just heard. now there's a similar argument against the voting rights act , that the court was right to strike it down because it's outdated. we don't need to worry about the voting rights act of black, minorities and so on. is that something you agree with?

    >> no, absolutely not. we have plenty of racism left and we can just look at the election laws across the country show us that. the fact that in over 30 states, there's over 80 bills introduced right now to somehow impede someone's ability to vote to me shows we still have racism alive and well .

    >> so eventual a proposal that will would replace the section that was voted down in the recent supreme court announcement. what is your proposal in detail?

    >> representative keith ellis son and myself have a proposal that specifically would be a constitutional amendment to make sure that we have a right to vote. i think people expect that you have that already in the constitution. but there is no explicit right to vote in the constitution. if we had an explicit right to vote, in he state that passes a law that makes it harder to vote would have to prove that they're not harming someone's ability to vote rather than the opposite. right now a person has to prove they've been harmed by a state law . and it really changes the burden of proof on to those states that pass these laws that really make it harder for people to vote.

    >> so mr. pocan you're suggesting not that the this should be restricted in terms of protections over certain southern states and states where there was a history of voter discrimination, you're saying it should be spread right across the 50 states .

    >> every single state, you should have a right to vote. you should be able to have the same right in wisconsin that you do in maryland that you do in california.

    >> good luck with that. i'm desperately trying to imagine how you're going to get that through the house and the senate.

    >> if we have the conversation, every single person has that inherent right to vote. that is the fundamental part of our democracy. if we had a constitutional amendment that said that, all these other fights would be for naught.

    >> let me read what jennifer ruben wrote in the " washington post " today. she says the racial grievance mongers could not accept the proposition that the states probably under the watchful eye of the voting rights act have changed in 50 years. they are convinced that the stain of racism never fades. but did we not just have a presidential election with very clear examples of attempts to suppress the vote?

    >> and there are also clear, yeah, clear examples across the country of attempts to suppress the vote whether it be in my state, wisconsin , photo i.d. laws, bills that restrict your amount of time you can vote, how you register to vote. these are the types of laws we see across the country making it harder to vote. what happens seemingly is elected officials want to. i can their voters rather than voters picking elected officials . so that's why we need to make sure we all have the same fundamental right to vote no matter where you live, no matter who you are.

    >> congressman mark pocan , thank you for joining us. now let's turn to ari melber. you were following i believe web blogging the senate judiciary committee hearing. i want you to listen to something that republican james sensenbrenner of wisconsin , same place as where mr. pocan comes from, take a listen to this.

    >> in 2006 , i was proud to have served as chairman of the house judiciary committee . when the voting rights act was last reauthorized. i thank you for the inviation to participate in this hearing and to provide my perspective on the continued importance of the voting rights act .

    >> so there we have a republican saying he still believes in the value. what are we to make of that.

    >> thanks for covering this and what you see in james sensenbrenner , who managed bill clinton 's impeachment who is an old school right winger but who unlike some of the tea party folks and some of these local officials actually is past this issue and sees it as an american issue, not a place for political division . sensenbrenner was with us on the voting rights act in '82, with us in 2006 and he came out today and pushed his fellow republicans on this. and the fight is going to be between him and what the house republicans are doing tomorrow which is handing their committee oversight on this issue to congressman franks who voted against it in '06 and one of the few republicans to do so.

    >> isn't it also the case that the opposition is actually just a generalized sense of cynicism and pessism and you've been pointing this out throughout, haven't you?

    >> that's the other biggest problem. it goes back to something we need to talk about, which is martin luther king . he had a vision that was initially unrealistic. if there was cable news news in his time when he was organizing boycotts, restaurant access and federal laws , everyone would have immediately gone to that cynical approach saying this doesn't look likely. therefore we'll talk about it as unlikely and there ever we're going to end up making it unlikely.

    >> here's the problem, ari. we have just witnessed what some of the best authors and watchers of this congress have described as the most dysfunctional in the history of the house.

    >> yes.

    >> so i'm not just being cynical. i'm being realistic. can you imagine section 5 or a new form of section 5 being reconstructed with this house.

    >> i absolutely can and i worked in the congress and i'm not a fan of going on tv and declaring we should do everything would you feel with no plan. the plan is you take it through the senate where every last republican vote ford it in 2006 . the votes are there in the senate. when you go to the house, unlike immigration where it's a question mark , the votes are there if you get it to the floor. if you have a discharge petition for boehner, sensenbrenner, right wing friend out on the floor talking about it, you push the guys you can get a vote. the predicate in this terrible house is the violence against women act which republicans didn't want to bring to the floor but under pressure be including from some conservative women they brought it to the floor where we had the votes. it's bigger than politics and too important.

    >> i wanted to extend our warmest congratulations. you recently got engaged 37 congratulations to you.

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