Rep. Sewell Praises Passage of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) praised the House passage of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which she introduced last week. This critical legislation would restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and keep the promise of our democracy for all Americans. Amid the most coordinated state-level effort to restrict the right to vote in generations, H.R. 4 would prevent states and localities with a recent history of voter discrimination from restricting the right to vote by requiring these jurisdictions to obtain federal preclearance before changing their voting laws. Supported by every House Democrat, H.R. 4 passed in the House of Representatives today by a vote of 219-212. “Today, the House took an important step in our continued struggle to keep the promise of our democracy alive for all Americans,” said Rep. Sewell. “With the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act today, we’re preserving and advancing the legacy of those brave Foot Soldiers like John Lewis who shed blood on that bridge for the right of all Americans to vote.” “The passage of H.R. 4 couldn’t come at a more critical time,” continued Sewell. “As states and localities erect deliberate barriers to the ballot box at an unprecedented pace, the need for federal oversight has never been more urgent. The Senate must now use every tool at its disposal to pass this bill and ensure it lands on President Biden’s desk. There is absolutely no time to waste.” For decades, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) prevented states and localities from restricting the right to vote. However, in its disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the law, invalidating Section 4 and striking down the formula used to determine which jurisdictions are subject to federal oversight. In July 2021, the Court further weakened the law in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, making it more difficult to challenge discriminatory voting laws under Section 2. Since 2013, there has been a steady increase in the number of restrictive voting laws that disproportionately suppress turnout among minorities, young adults, and the elderly. This accelerated in 2021 with the Big Lie of a “stolen election.” Just this year, 18 states have enacted at least 30 laws to restrict access to the vote. Named for the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Robert Lewis, H.R. 4 restores Section 4 of the VRA by establishing a modern-day formula that requires states and localities with a recent history of voter discrimination to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. For areas to qualify for judicial pre-clearance, they must have the following qualifications: States with a history of 15 or more violations at any level in the previous 25 years States with a history of 10 or more violations, if one violation occurs at the state level in the previous 25 years Subdivisions with 3 or more violations in the subdivision in the previous 25 years H.R. 4 also restores Section 2 of the VRA by clarifying congressional intent and eliminating the heightened standard created by the Supreme Court in Brnovich v. DNC that makes it more difficult to challenge discriminatory voting laws. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act also: Allows federal courts to immediately halt questionable voting practices until a final ruling is made. This provision recognizes that when voting rights are at stake, prohibiting a discriminatory practice after the election has concluded is too late to truly protect voters’ rights. Gives the Attorney General authority to request that federal observers be present anywhere in the country where discriminatory voting practices pose a serious threat. Increases transparency by requiring reasonable public notice for voting changes. Includes a retrogression standard for already-enacted but not-yet-implemented measures. Help plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief for voting rights violations in the lead-up to an election. Establishes a grant program for small jurisdictions to help them comply with the bill’s various notice requirements. H.R. 4 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Newswire: Rep. Sewell introduces H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Terri Sewell

  Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) introduced H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This critical legislation would restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) which were gutted by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision and more recently in the 2021 Brnovich v. DNC decision. The bill aims to protect voters from discrimination by restoring and strengthening the protections of the VRA. The introduction of H.R. 4 comes amid the most coordinated state-level effort to restrict the right to vote in generations and follows a months-long investigation by the House Committee on Administration and House Committee on the Judiciary into the status of voting rights in America. The bill enjoys support from over 190 original co-sponsors including all members of House Democratic leadership. The House is expected to vote on H.R. 4 next week.   “The right to vote is the most sacred and fundamental right we enjoy as American citizens and one that the Foot Soldiers fought, bled, and died for in my hometown of Selma, Alabama,” said Rep. Sewell. “Today, old battles have become new again as we face the most pernicious assault on the right to vote in generations. 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. I’m proud to be introducing this bill today and look forward to its swift passage. Our democracy is at stake.”   For decades, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) ensured equal access to the ballot box for Black and minority voters by requiring states and localities with a history of voter discrimination—as determined in Section 4—to obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. However, in its infamous 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4, arguing that voter discrimination was an issue of the past and that the formula used to determine which states and localities were subject to preclearance was outdated.   On July 1, 2021, in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, the Supreme Court struck another devastating blow to the VRA, upholding Arizona’s voting laws targeting Latino and other minority voters and making it more difficult for parties to challenge racially discriminatory voting laws under Section 2.    Beginning in April, the House Committee on Administration Subcommittee on Elections held a series of investigatory hearings and collected numerous reports and documents regarding the status of voting rights in America. The hearings culminated in a report which the Committee released on Friday, August 6, detailing modern-day efforts to restrict the right to vote. Meanwhile, the House Committee on the Judiciary also held hearings on the need to protect the right to vote.   Informed by these findings, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore protections of the VRA gutted by the Supreme Court. It would once again prohibit states and localities with a recent history of voter discrimination from restricting the right to vote by including an updated formula for determining which states and localities are subject to federal oversight. It would also amend Section 2 of the VRA to eliminate the heightened standard for challenging voter discrimination that the Supreme Court created in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC.   The introduction of H.R. 4 comes amid the most coordinated state-level effort to restrict the right to vote in generations. Driven by the Big Lie, 18 states have enacted at least 30 new restrictive, anti-voter laws just this year.   A previous version of H.R. 4 passed in the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress by a vote of 228-187, but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Last year, the bill was renamed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to honor the legacy of civil rights icon and former Congressman John Robert Lewis who passed away on July 17, 2020.   “The House today is taking a momentous step to secure the sacred right to vote for generations to come,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “With the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, proudly introduced today by Congresswoman Terri Sewell alongside Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, 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.  When the House returns on August 23rd, Democrats plan to pass H.R. 4 – and we hope it can secure the bipartisan support this vital legislation deserves.”   The House is expected to vote on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act next week.