The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, was the youngest and last surviving member of the Big Six civil rights activists who led the fight to end legalized segregation and overturn Jim Crow laws. He was arrested dozens of times and also beaten as a Freedom Rider. Alex Wong/Getty Images.
WASHINGTON — At the base of the bridge in Selma, Ala., where the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia almost died while marching for civil rights, congressional Democrats announced Tuesday the introduction of legislation that aims to protect voting rights across the country.
Rep. Terri Sewell, an Alabama Democrat, unveiled what will be designated as H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights and Advancement Act.
The legislation would establish a preclearance formula that would require some states that want to make changes to their voting laws to receive permission from the Justice Department first.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the House will vote on the bill—a revamped version of a bill passed by the House last year—next week when the House returns briefly from its summer recess. But the measure will face a difficult path in the Senate, where there likely won’t be enough votes to defeat a filibuster.
“Democrats are fighting back against an anti-democratic tide, protecting access to the ballot box for every American and carrying on the cause to which our beloved John Lewis devoted his entire life,” she said. “A brazen, partisan campaign of voter suppression silences voters of color across the nation and threatens to erode our democracy.”
Sewell said the bill would require a review of the last 25 years of voting laws enacted by states to determine if a state would be covered by the preclearance section.
Preclearance would be triggered if a state has had more than 15 violations of the 14th or 15th Amendment during that period or if a jurisdiction has had more than 10 violations. The review would include laws beginning in 1996.
The bill re-establishes a preclearance section that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013. That provision required nine states and a handful of counties and cities with a history of discriminating against Black and voters of color to get permission from the Justice Department before making any changes to voting laws.
The court then directed Congress in 2013 to create a new preclearance formula. Congress has held dozens of hearings on voting laws that states have passed that expert witnesses and Justice Department officials warned disenfranchised voters of color.
“As you can tell by the big lie spread for the (presidential) election of 2020, many states have had a concerted effort to have more restrictive voting laws put in place,” Sewell said.
Rep. Dina Titus, (D-Nev.), said in a statement that the Republican-controlled states passing restrictive voting laws are “driven by the Big Lie.”
“Congress has a duty to act and protect against racial discrimination in voting,” she said.
This year alone, 18 states have passed 30 laws with restrictive voting provisions that limit drop boxes, curb early and mail-in voting and make it illegal to hand out food and water during voting lines.
Republican state legislators through July of this year have introduced more than 400 bills with restrictive voting provisions across 49 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Across the country, we continue to bear witness to GOP attacks on voting rights with restrictive laws and voter-ID rules to prevent people of color, students, and others from having their voices heard at the ballot box,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, (D-Md.), said in a statement.
He also urged the Senate to take up H.R. 4 once the House passes it “to protect voting rights and strengthen our democracy.”
Any voting rights legislation will have an uphill battle in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between the parties, but Sewell said that Democrats are confident passage is possible.
She pointed to Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.), who has voiced his support for passing a John Lewis voting rights bill.
“I am urging once again that we stand up for the rights of all Americans by passing this on a bipartisan basis,” she said.
Republicans, however, during a June U.S. House Judiciary panel hearing on H.R. 4 argued that reinstating the preclearance section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was unnecessary because there is no discrimination in voting.
Jill Nolin contributed to this report.
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