The House passed on Tuesday the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that would strengthen and restore key provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. The legislation is named after the civil and voting rights leader John Lewis, who died a year ago.
The bill, HR 4, would restore the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Preclearance empowers the Department of Justice to prevent states and districts with a history of voter discrimination from making changes to their voting procedures that would restrict the right to vote.
In 2013, the Supreme Court decided that the formula to determine the preclearance threshold was out-of-date, effectively eliminating the preclearance measure originally set in place by the Voting Rights Act.
“Today, old battles have become new again as we face the most pernicious assault on the right to vote in generations,” said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), a sponsor of the bill.
“It’s clear: federal oversight is urgently needed. With the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, we’re standing up and fighting back. By preventing states with a recent history of voter discrimination from restricting the right to vote, this bill restores the full promise of our democracy and advances the legacy of those brave Foot Soldiers like John Lewis who dedicated their lives for the sacred right to vote.”
The act would also restore Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from creating voting rules that would discriminate against people of color. The Supreme Court weakened this section of the VRA this year by upholding two racially discriminatory Arizona voting laws.
“For decades, the Voting Rights Act stood as a singularly effective bulwark against the threat of voter discrimination,” said Wendy R. Wiser, Vice President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.
“At a moment when states across the country are passing laws that make it harder to vote—many of them targeted at voters of color—the need for a robust, revitalized VRA could not be starker. By restoring the law’s core protections, The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would safeguard the right of every citizen to participate in our democracy on equal footing.”
The bill was passed along party lines. It now heads to the Senate, where it will likely face steep opposition.
“No matter our race, background, or zip code, we all value the freedom to vote and believe that all Americans should have a say in key decisions that impact our lives,” said Wade Henderson, Interim President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“We absolutely must come together to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and restore the federal government’s ability to block state and local governments from passing racially discriminatory bills.”
Sources: CNN 8/24/21; NPR 8/24/21; The Hill 8/24/21; Congresswoman Terri Sewell 8/17/21; Feminist Newswire 7/2/21