Ryan Abdicates Responsibility on Protecting Voting Rights

By: Meredith Kelly

As our country heads into the 2016 presidential elections, it will also be the first presidential election in a half century where voters will not have the full protections of the historic Voting Rights Act. There is a bipartisan bill to restore the VRA, but it continues to languish at the hands of House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Despite claiming to support the bill, Speaker Ryan refuses to force the issue, instead deferring to Goodlatte and effectively throwing his hands up in the air. As civil rights leader Wade Henderson summed it up: “deeds speak louder than words,” and so do Ryan’s lack of deeds when it comes to protecting voting rights.


Headline: TPM: “Ryan To Black Caucus: I’m With You On Voting Rights–But I Can’t Do Anything.” [TPM, 2/4/16]

Headline: The Hill: “Ryan backs voting rights bill — but tells black caucus it’s out of his hands.” [The Hill, 2/3/16]

Ryan Refused To Move Legislation To Update & Restore Voting Rights Act Protections. “Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they’ve championed, but said he won’t bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.  ‘He said it right in front of everybody — he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill,’ Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill. ‘So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’’ Cleaver added. ‘And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.’’” [The Hill, 2/3/16]

President/CEO Of Leadership Conference On Civil And Human Rights: Paul Ryan’s “Lip Service  . . . Does Nothing” For Millions Of Voters Fighting To Exercise Right To Vote. “Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) endorsed a restoration of the Voting Rights Act at a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Speaker Ryan, however, denied his responsibility as Speaker to move a VRA restoration in the House, and instead punted to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) who has obstinately ignored voting discrimination throughout the country, even in his home-state of Virginia: ‘Lip service is not public service. While voters of color appreciate Speaker Ryan’s acknowledgement of the need to restore the VRA, that alone does nothing for the millions of voters who have to fight tooth and nail just to exercise their right to vote.’” [Leadership Conference press release, 2/4/16]

Henderson: “Speaker Ryan Appears Unwilling To Back His Words With The Necessary Action. . . . Deeds Speak Louder Than Words.” “‘Unfortunately, Speaker Ryan appears unwilling to back his words with the necessary action. He has instead sloughed that responsibility onto House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who stands in the way of civil rights and voting rights legislation. Chairman Goodlatte has refused to heed calls from his constituents, from the civil rights community, and from the courts that voting discrimination has flourished without the full protections of the VRA. Even as courts have found that his home state of Virginia gerrymandered districts to deny Black voting power, Chairman Goodlatte refuses to even hold a hearing on a VRA restoration. Deeds speak louder than words. It’s time for Chairman Goodlatte and Speaker Ryan to advance legislation to restore the VRA.’” [Leadership Conference press release, 2/4/16]