WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) on August 24 voted to pass H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As voters across the country face the worst voter suppression campaign since Jim Crow, this landmark legislation will fight back against the partisan, anti-democratic barriers keeping voters — particularly voters of color — from the ballot box.
“Voting rights cannot be dependent on where you live. To protect our democracy, we must ensure that every American not only has the right to vote, but also the ability and access to vote. As the House voted to pass H.R. 4 tonight, I had John Lewis on my mind, who 56 years ago walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and nearly gave his life for the right to vote. This is how we honor his legacy,” said Congresswoman Maloney.
For decades, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) empowered the federal government to block certain states and localities with dark histories of discriminatory barriers to voting from enacting restrictions on the right to vote. However, in its disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the U.S. Department of Justice’s “preclearance” power under the VRA. In July 2021, the Court further weakened the law in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, which made it more difficult for the federal government to challenge discriminatory voting laws.
As a result of the Shelby decision, states began passing voter suppression laws, because there was no preclearance requirement hindering them. The restrictive laws – including voter roll purges, restrictions to mail-in voting, elimination of polling places and more – have disproportionately reduced turnout among communities of color, voters with disabilities, young adults and older voters. This has been meticulously documented by the Democratic House over two Congresses.
This year, Republican-controlled state legislatures across the nation have accelerated their voter suppression campaign, fed by former President Trump’s Big Lie about the results of the 2020 election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 18 states have already enacted 30 laws that restrict the right to vote, and more than 400 voter suppression bills are still actively being considered across the country.
Named for the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, H.R. 4 restores the preclearance requirement, allowing the federal government to once again reject many restrictions to voting, and creates a new practice-based preclearance requirement. The bill also eliminates the heightened standard for challenging voter suppression laws, which was created by the Brnovich decision.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will also:
· Allow federal courts to immediately halt measures that put voting rights at stake until a final ruling is made.
· Empower the Attorney General to request that federal election observers be present anywhere in the country where discriminatory voting practices pose a serious threat.
· Require reasonable public notice for proposed voting changes to increase transparency.
· Allow the federal government to review already-enacted but not-yet-implemented measures.
· Help plaintiffs seek injunctive relief for voting rights violations ahead of an election.
· Establish a grant program for small jurisdictions to help them comply with the bill’s requirement to provide public notice for proposed voting laws.
After passing today in the House, H.R. 4 will now go to the Senate for consideration.