House passes John Lewis Act, crucial voting rights bill

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). The legislation would address racial discrimination in voting by restoring and strengthening the protections of the Voting Rights Act — provisions gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 and further weakened in Brnovich v. DNC earlier this year.

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, had the following reaction:

“Today the House passed a much-needed voting rights bill. It’s critical to the health of our nation’s democracy and its commitment to equality and racial justice. Now it’s up to the Senate to act, without delay and without excuse.

“The Voting Rights Act was long recognized as perhaps the most effective civil rights law. But in recent years, the Supreme Court has sent the country backwards on voting rights. The 2013 Shelby County decision and this year’s Brnovich ruling gravely weakened the law. Americans can’t count on the highest court to fend off racial discrimination in voting. It’s up to Congress.

“The facts show that racial discrimination in voting has followed us into the 21st century. Recently it is getting worse, not better. The gap between white voters’ turnout rates and nonwhite voters’ rates has been widening nationwide, especially in states once covered by a strong Voting Rights Act. Meanwhile, discriminatory voting restrictions are being proposed and frequently enacted in the states at a rate not seen since the Jim Crow era.

“This country’s citizens need the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. They needed it when Representative Lewis championed this legislation in 2015, and they need it now. Senators face a choice: they can act to protect voting rights, or refuse to do so. Senate rules cannot be used as an excuse to evade that fundamental choice. As redistricting begins, voting laws move forward in legislatures, and partisans prepare new restrictive steps, this bill is absolutely urgent.”

Related Brennan Center resources:

“Racial Turnout Gap Grew in Jurisdictions Previously Covered by the Voting Rights Act” (Kevin Morris, Peter Miller, and Coryn Grange, August 20, 2021)
Testimony on Oversight of the Voting Rights Act: Potential Legislative Reforms (Wendy Weiser, vice president for Democracy, before the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, August 16, 2021)
“Large Racial Turnout Gap Persisted in 2020 Election” (Kevin Morris and Coryn Grange, August 6, 2021)
“Voting Laws Roundup: July 2021” (July 22, 2021)
Testimony on the Implications of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Potential Legislative Reponses (Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program, before the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, July 16, 2021)
Testimony on Voting in America Before the Committee on House Administration’s Subcommittee on Elections (Michael Waldman, president, before the Committee on House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, June 24, 2021)
Testimony on the Potential for Polling Place Quality and Restrictions on Opportunities to Vote to Interfere with Free and Fair Access to the Ballot (Kevin Morris, before the Committee on House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, June 11, 2021)

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