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'It is open season on voting rights right now in America'

Associated Press

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, it was hard not to wonder how long it would take for Republican state lawmakers to begin imposing new voting restrictions on Americans they don't like. As it turns out, GOP policymakers were apparently already revving their engines, just waiting for the green light that came 24 hours ago.

MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin noted that the Supreme Court's majority said the Voting Rights Act "probably wasn't a deterrent against new restrictions." Sarlin added, "Oops."

Quite right. Just yesterday, Republican state lawmakers in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas all moved forward, with great enthusiasm, on new election measures intended to make it harder for traditional Democratic voters to participate in their own democracy. It is, as Rachel noted on the show last night, "open season on voting rights right now in America," thanks to the Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, the responsibility for "fixing" the Voting Rights Act is now in the hands of Congress, where one GOP leader was willing to say ... something.

Earlier this year, [House Majority Leader Eric Cantor] participated in the congressional delegation that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., leads back to Selma, Ala., annually. That pilgrimage visits the sites of the civil rights movement, particularly one where, during a nonviolent demonstration, an explosion of police brutality erupted that left Lewis, then a young activist, with severe injuries.

"My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all," Cantor said. "I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a reasonable path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."

That wouldn't be especially noteworthy were it not for the fact that Cantor, to his credit, was literally the only member of the House congressional leadership -- in either party -- to issue a statement in response to the high court ruling. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn all said nothing.

Looking ahead, to put it mildly, this matters.

Indeed, why is it they were so reluctant to say anything at all? One of their colleagues was willing to explain the situation fairly accurately.

Most House Republicans were relatively subdued in the wake of the Supreme Court's Tuesday decision to strike parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Conservative Arizona Rep. Trent Franks said that was no accident, but the result of a fear that their remarks would be interpreted as racism.

I suspect that's a fair summary of the party's fears, but I hope Republican lawmakers will consider the larger context. If they're afraid of commenting for fear of looking racist, how do they suppose they'll look when they reject efforts to "fix" the Voting Rights Act itself?

Boehner, McConnell, and company may not have a plan just yet, and they very likely would have preferred that the Supreme Court not drop this in their laps, but they're going to have to come up with a strategy very soon.

And while they're at it, I'd also encourage the Republican National Committee to think long and hard about voting rights in the coming months. Reince Priebus has been on a "listening tour" in recent months, making what appears to be a sincere effort to reach out to minority communities.

But whether the RNC realizes it or not, the party is in an untenable situation -- Republicans can't reach out to minority communities with one hand and wage a war on voting with the other, at least not if they expect their outreach efforts to be taken seriously.

Put it this way: if Republicans think they have a demographic problem now, imagine what it'll look like after the party refuses to back a revamped Voting Rights Act.

No wonder Boehner and McConnell were feeling shy yesterday.