Leahy, Durbin, Coons & House Tri-Caucus Leaders Introduce Legislation To Restore and Advance The Voting Rights Act
WASHINGTON (Wednesday, June 24, 2015) – Two years since the Supreme Court gutted core protections in the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, states and localities throughout the country have passed sweeping laws that disproportionately suppress the voting rights of minorities. These laws have left voters without the protections they need to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
To restore and advance the voting protections for all Americans, a group of Senate and House Democratic lawmakers joined together Wednesday to introduce the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) of 2015.
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the measure in the Senate. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, introduced an identical measure in the House.
Senator Leahy said: “The Voting Rights Advancement Act is a voting rights bill for all Americans. It is a bill for the next generation, and helps protect the legacy of the previous generation who fought so hard five decades ago for these voting rights protections.”
Protections under the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 will extend to all voters nationwide. The legislation targets certain voting practices known to suppress the voting rights of minorities. The bill is the result of collaboration with those at the grassroots who have witnessed the harmful effects that discriminatory voting laws have had in their communities.
Key provisions of the bill include:
- A new geographic coverage formula that is based on current conditions. The bill establishes a “rolling” nationwide trigger that continuously moves so that only states that have a recent record of racial discrimination in voting would be covered.
- Allows federal courts to bail in states for preclearance. Current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in if an intentional violation can be shown. The new legislation offers more protection by allowing a court to bail in states or jurisdictions whose voting practices have discriminatory results.
- Greater transparency in federal elections to ensure that voters are made aware of late-breaking changes in voting procedures. The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.
- Revises the standard for preliminary injunctions for voting rights cases, allowing a court at the start of litigation to immediately halt a challenged voting practice until a final ruling. This provision recognizes that when voting rights are at stake, stopping a discriminatory practice after the election has already concluded is too late to vindicate voters’ rights.
Democratic Senators Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Chris Coons (Del.) are original coauthors of the bill. Cosponsors of the legislation include Democratic Harry Reid (Nev.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Mark Warner (Va.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Al Franken (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Penn.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Tim Kaine (Va.), and Cory Booker (N.J.).
The Voting Rights Advancement Act: Protecting All Voters
- Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.): “If it was not clear in 2014, I think it is clear today that we have come a great distance in this country toward healing the divisions and problems among us, but we are not there yet. This legislation acknowledges that we still have much more work to do, but we have come too far, and we have made too much progress to stop now. I support this legislation and hope that this Congress will do what is right by the people of this nation and pass the voting right legislation that restores justice, dignity, and equal access to the ballot box in America.” (Rep. Lewis’s full statement)
- Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “In the two years since the Shelby County decision, several state legislatures have pushed through discriminatory and onerous restrictions on voting that previously would have required Justice Department clearance. I wish that fifty years after we enacted the Voting Rights Act, our society had reached a point where its protections were no longer necessary. But we have not, and the Voting Rights Act is still very much needed today.”
- Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.): “There is an urgent need to protect the progress we have made since the courageous Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement dared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago. We have inherited their legacy, and the fight to ensure that all Americans can participate in our political process continues today. The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 takes an expansive view of the need to protect access to the voting booth, and will offer more protection to more people in more states.”
- Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.): “The Court’s decision in Shelby County two years ago, left Latino voters especially vulnerable. Seven million eligible Latino voters are now without the voting protections they deserve. Voting is one of the most fundamental rights we have and a threat to our voting rights is truly a threat to our democracy. The Voting Rights Advancement Act strengthens voter protections for targeted communities and is being introduced at a most critical time in our country.”
- Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.): “Fifty years after Selma, the civil rights movement has not yet finished, and in states across Americas, voting rights that were once protected by federal statute are now again at risk from modern day Jim Crow laws. This legislation recognizes the challenges we’ve overcome, but more importantly, it recognizes the challenges we still face today.”
- Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.): “For over 40 years, the Voting Rights Act was one of our best tools for combating disenfranchisement – particularly in places with a history of discrimination. But that all changed with the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision two years ago this week. Since then, the ensuing back-and-forth between states and courts over what is a legitimate restriction on access to the polls has made it as clear as ever that we need a national standard. This is particularly important to ensure that people of color, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, have the ability to fully participate in our democracy. That is why I am proud to be one of the lead sponsors of the Voting Rights Advancement Act to make sure that no state can systematically chip away at any group’s right to vote.”
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