Washington, D.C., June 24, 2015 – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) praises today’s introduction of the Voting Rights Advancement Act in the Senate and the House. Senators Leahy, Brown, Durbin, Coons, and others have given Congress an important new opportunity to take a meaningful stand against voting discrimination by reaffirming its commitment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which lost key provisions because of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Representatives Terri Sewell and John Lewis, who are introducing a companion bill in the House of Representatives, are likewise showing their leadership in the fight to restore a robust and effective VRA.
“We welcome the introduction of this crucial legislation and look forward to working with all members of Congress to rebuild a fully effective Voting Rights Act and to ensure that allAmericans are protected from voting discrimination,” said Tanya Clay House, public policy director at the Lawyers’ Committee.
The Supreme Court’s opinion on June 25, 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder rendered Section 5 of the VRA inoperable by striking down the coverage formula that determined which states and areas with a history of race bias in voting were subject to preclearance, i.e. federal government approval of election changes.
Within hours of the Shelby County decision, the state of Texas announced that it would implement its restrictive voter ID law, which the United States District Court for the District of Columbia had blocked under Section 5 of the VRA. The Lawyers’ Committee has since been active in addressing this and other instances of voting discrimination that would have been prevented by Section 5. The Lawyers’ Committee’s extensive documentation of recent voting discrimination was included in the record submitted to Congress last year. That record clearly showed that voting rights violations have continued to occur and that they were heavily concentrated in the states and counties covered under Section 5 before the Shelby County decision.
“Tomorrow we will mark two years since the citizens of America’s states and counties with the worst records of voting discrimination lost their most effective legal protections. Congress has the power and the responsibility to enforce the Constitution through strong remedies against voting discrimination and there is no reason for more delay,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee.
Key Provisions of Today’s Bill
Today’s bill contains a number of provisions designed to prevent discriminatory voting practices from being put into effect and to deter them from being adopted in the first place. These include:
- updating the formula to determine the jurisdictions that are required to obtain preclearance for voting changes;
- strengthening voting rights protections for Native Americans and Alaska Native voters;
- making it clear that federal courts should issue temporary injunctions against discriminatory voting changes while awaiting trial in voting rights lawsuits;
- reauthorizing the U.S. Department of Justice to send federal observers to states and counties when and where they are needed;
- requiring states and counties to provide timely notice of changes to their election laws or procedures; and
- expanding the circumstances under which federal courts can order preclearance as a remedy for violations of federal voting rights laws.
“There are now two separate bills in Congress that attempt to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate to Congress to update the VRA. Now is the time for both the House and the Senate to hold congressional hearings, lest those bills lay dormant while eligible Americans lose out on opportunities to have their voices heard,” said Clay House.