President Barack Obama today criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to void a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, saying the justices failed to recognize the degree to which voter suppression is still a problem around the country.
"I might not be here as President had it not been for those who courageously helped to pass the Voting Rights Act," Obama said Thursday during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal. "I think that the Supreme Court made a mistake in its ruling, but that decision is now here."
It was his first public comments since the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The section that spells out the formula used to determine which jurisdictions warrant special scrutiny when they propose changes in their election processes. Without it, the U.S. Department of Justice is unable use Section 5, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get preclearance for voting changes.
Obama said today that it "makes sense" to have mechanisms to check practices and procedures that may make it harder for people to vote in those areas.
"And part of the reason … is because even though lawsuits can still be filed now if there's discrimination, if you don't have the structure of Section 4 and Section 5 in place ahead of time, the election may be over by the time law suits are filed or a court rules," Obama said. "And oftentimes, it may be too late."
Obama renewed his call to fix the election system so there are not unwarranted obstructions or unnecessary delays to voting, such as the seven-hour long lines at the polling places, which happened in the 2012 presidential election.
He mentioned by name Perkins Coie partner Robert Bauer, the lawyer for Obama's re-election and general counsel to the Democratic National Committee, who is now a co-chairman of the newly formed Presidential Commission on Election Administration. The other co-chair of the commission is Benjamin Ginsberg of Patton Boggs, the lawyer for Mitt Romney's election campaign and former general counsel to the Republican National Committee.
"They're going to be issuing a report in terms of how we can start making it easier for folks to vote," Obama said. "I recognize that whenever you get into voting rights issues, inevitably some partisan thoughts cross people's minds about who is it going to advantage or disadvantage.
"But in the wake of this Supreme Court ruling, surely we can all agree that people should be able to vote," Obama said.