Statement on Action by the Senate Judiciary Committee Concerning Extension of the Voting Rights Act

May 3, 1982

Voting is one of the most cherished of our birthrights as American citizens. When practiced, it enriches our democracy; when threatened, it must be protected.

On November 6th of last year, in recognition of the significant contribution that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had made in protecting the voting rights of minority citizens, I called for a 10-year extension of that law. No previous extension had been as long. I also asked that the bilingual provision in the law be extended so that it is concurrent with the other special provisions of the act.

The matter is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has held extensive hearings and is preparing to report out a bill to the floor of the Senate. There appears to be nearly unanimous support in the committee for some form of extension.

A principal concern that I and others have expressed about the bill that has previously passed the House is whether it would create a new set of problems in trying to solve some old ones. Specifically and most importantly, we have questioned whether the standard of proof introduced in voting rights cases would lead to proportional representation in many election districts. Such proportional representation would, of course, be alien to the traditional political principles of our country.

During the past week, a majority of the Judiciary Committee has worked hard to fashion a constructive, bipartisan compromise that addresses this concern. In this regard, their compromise would greatly strengthen the safeguards against proportional representation while also protecting the basic right to vote.

Today I not only want to salute the efforts of those who have forged this compromise, but I also want to give it my heartfelt support. My hope is that it will now pave the way toward swift extension of the Voting Rights Act by the entire Congress.

I recognize that there are other concerns about the bill now before the Judiciary Committee. Among these is a desire for a reasonable bailout provision. Should such concerns be brought up in further debate, I hope they will be addressed in the same bipartisan, constructive spirit.

The all-important goal now is to enact an extension of the law as quickly as possible so that we can put it into effect and assure all of our citizens that we are committed to protecting their most sacred rights. As I said in my statement of November 6th: ``The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.''