VAWA passes, while the VRA may be declared unconsitutional

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By Madeline Kirsch

It’s been a busy week in Washington. Lawmakers reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) after Republicans controversially tried to block the bill over protections for Native Americans, immigrants and LGBT people.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court appeared likely to strike down the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which many people claim will allow states to pass voter regulations that discriminate against minorities.

After Republicans dropped their opposition to the added protections, VAWA was passed by a vote of 286 to 138.

Every Democrat voted for the bill, and interestingly, 10 women were among the Republicans who voted against it.

VAWA was developed to address domestic and sexual violence and expanded to include dating violence and stalking. According to the Library of Congress, it also provided assistance to tribes and tribal organizations to end an epidemic of sex crimes against Native American women.

The law was due for reauthorization in 2012, and this time Democrats expanded the bill to add further protection for Native American women and same-sex couples and to make it easier for undocumented immigrants who are victims of sexual assault to stay in the U.S. legally.

Republicans tried to block the bill in committee, claiming that there was a “lack of consensus” on these new provisions. However, strong public opinion eventually forced their hand.

The Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. The Alabama county sued the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the VRA is unconstitutional because it discriminates against Southern states and perpetuates an unfair stigma of their states as racist.

The VRA was passed in 1965 in the midst of the civil-rights struggle. It requires several Southern states to have any changes in their voting laws approved by the Justice Department. The act received a lot of attention in last year’s election cycle, as many states enacted strict voter ID requirements that many claim serve to disenfranchise blacks, the elderly and the poor.

The court’s four conservative justices seemed to unanimously support the arguments against the law, and swing vote Anthony Kennedy appeared to agree with them.

Since only five votes are required to decide a case, commentators consider it highly unlikely that the VRA will remain in its present form.

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