GOP Senators Won’t Commit to Constitutionality of Law They All Voted For

As the Supreme Court prepares to possibly overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act, many of the Republican senators who voted for reauthorization of that bill — it passed on a 98-0 vote — are refusing to say whether they think it’s constitutional.

“Uh,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), before a long, awkward pause, “I haven’t even thought about it.” He laughed and said, “I’ll leave that to the courts. I’m having a hard enough time being a senator, much less a Supreme Court justice.”

I asked the same question to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who, like Graham, voted to renew the law in 2006. “The Voting Rights Act?” he asked. Yes, I said. Should it be upheld? “Oh, I don’t know,” Inhofe replied. “I’ll let someone else answer that.”…

“I haven’t — I’m worried about other things,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), nodding his head as he entered an elevator.

I asked Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who was exiting a conference meeting and walking into the same senators-only elevator, if the law should be upheld. “Uh, I’m not…” he said. As the elevator door closed, he shrugged his shoulders.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a former leadership member who also voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, similarly declined to answer.

“No, I am not going to try to be a Supreme Court [justice] and senator at the same time,” he told reporters. Is it constitutional? “That’s the question before the Supreme Court.”

And it goes on and on like that with many others, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John Boozman, and Roy Blunt. If they agree that it’s unconstitutional, why did they all vote for it? And if they don’t agree, why aren’t they saying so? ThinkProgress has this quote from Sen. Lindsay Graham when he voted to pass that bill, which reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years:

South Carolina has come a long way in the past few decades and we have a lot to be proud of. But just like every other part of the country, we still have a ways to go. I hope twenty-five years from now it can be said that there will be no need for a Voting Rights Act because things have continued to change for the better. If we continue making progress like we have in the past twenty-five years, we can make it happen.

Prepare for some serious doubletalk.

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  • doublereed

    Quite frankly, I don’t think they really care either way. But they certainly don’t want to condemn the supreme court (in either case) so they shrug and hem and haw.

  • “Uh,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), before a long, awkward pause, “I haven’t even thought about it.


  • busterggi

    But they love the Constitution and they’re originalists!

  • jamessweet

    I think there’s something to be said for the “That’s for the courts to decide” approach, but in order for it to be intellectually honest they’d have to do it along with an articulation of support for the law they voted for. e.g. “I’m not a constitutional scholar nor a Supreme Court justice, so I’m not comfortable making a strong pronouncement on that… but I think it’s an important piece of legislation and I do hope that upholding it is what the courts ultimately determine is the right course of action.” I think that would be an acceptable dodge.

    Of course, they can’t actually say that since the Tea Party Machine has decided to turn it’s rage on the Voting Rights Act. #GOPproblems: Yet another thing where they can’t clearly state a position either way, because if they go one way then they look like complete scum to all decent people (making it harder to win their next general election), and if they go they other way they earn the ire of the party’s radical minority (which makes them vulnerable in their next primary). Getcha popcorn. There are just more and more issues like this, where the GOP simply can’t win.

  • As Lindsey Graham himself noted, there aren’t enough angry old white men left to keep the GOP in power. But the radical right still holds them by the short and curlies. As their nominees either get crazier or have to pander to the crazies, voter suppression is becoming a vital component of their election strategy. They just can’t say it openly yet. The one lesson they took away from the 2012 election was “don’t say what you really believe out loud.” Especially if there may be a camera present.

  • anubisprime

    Of course they all know it is unconstitutional, looking at the title alone gives the game away, but desperation and ego rules, and they just might have gotten away with it, worth a punt is the operating principle here.

    They might be dumb but they ain’t stupid!

  • If it’s a legitimate suppression, the voting booth has ways to try to shut that whole thing down…” ~ Todd Aiken

  • abb3w

    The Senate oath of office starts “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States“. If they have doubts about the constitutionality of the law, wasn’t their vote a violation of their oath of office?

  • Nepenthe

    He hasn’t even thought about it? His mind hasn’t even wandered over a big national news story while he’s taking a crap or sudsing in the shower?

    His neurons must be so bored.

  • @Nepenthe #9 – “His neurons must be so bored.”

    There is an unwarranted assumption in there….

  • If they have doubts about the constitutionality of the law, wasn’t their vote a violation of their oath of office?

    Almost. I’d count it as in keeping with their oaths if they tried their hardest to vote only for constitutional laws, and made mistakes from time to time.

    The violation is that they don’t even do that– they don’t even pretend to do that.

  • South Carolina has come a long way in the past few decades and we have a lot to be proud of.

    I know. I heard they even have a gay senator.