House Democrats Advance Bill to Restore Parts of Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON (CN) — Democrats sent a bill to the House floor Wednesday aimed at resurrecting provisions of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 that were meant to protect against racial discrimination at the polls.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Republicans decried the legislation as a messaging bill, warning it will be dead in the Senate. The Voting Rights Advancement Act is backed by 225 Democrats and no Republicans. The bill would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, reauthorized by Congress with strong bipartisan support in 2006.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Shelby County v. Holder that portions of the law were outdated and did not reflect current voting conditions. But Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said Wednesday the high court’s ruling gutted voting rights.

Within 24 hours of the ruling, said Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., states moved to impose racially discriminatory voting laws, later struck down by lower courts.

“We did not create this problem. With the decision made by Shelby the horrors of pre-1965 began to take root,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

Nadler pointed to last year’s Georgia gubernatorial race as just one of many egregious examples of voter suppression set off by the 2013 Supreme Court decision.

The showdown featuring Democrat Stacey Abrams — who would have been the first black woman governor in the U.S. — drew national attention over reports her Republican opponent Brian Kemp, who at the time was Georgia’s secretary of state presiding over the election, was suppressing minority votes.

A voters group sued and federal prosecutors announced in court that Kemp would resign as secretary of state, the day after he declared victory in the gubernatorial race.

“The damage had already been done by the time the court could act,” Nadler said.

The contentious bill, which passed in the Judiciary Committee with a 19-6 vote Wednesday, would require states with a history of racial discrimination to seek approval from the Justice Department before implementing changes to voter laws.

But Republicans said there is no evidence of racial discrimination at the polls.

“We urge all of our colleagues to join us in opposing this bill, which would unconstitutionally deny states and localities control over their own voting rules when there is absolutely no evidence at all that they have been engaging in discriminatory treatment at all based on race,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.

Johnson later said the law, even if passed, would surely be struck down by the Supreme Court.

The bill lays out a target process for reviewing changes to voter laws nationwide, focusing on historically discriminatory measures like voter ID laws.

Johnson said it risks diluting legitimately cast votes. The congressman said as a college student, he could easily get his hands on a forged student identification card.

Representative Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., shot back: “People get fake IDs — that’s to drink. It’s not to vote.”

But Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., joined Johnson to call out Democrats for the partisan bill.

“It is a poison pill,” he said.

Nadler replied that Democrats had no plans to kneel prematurely to House Republicans, backed by a majority in the Senate. He urged Republicans to back the bill and allow negotiations to play out as the legislation makes its way to a floor vote.

Jackson Lee recognized Sensenbrenner for his bipartisan leadership on voter rights in the past. But the Texas congresswoman said the Democrat-led committee has a responsibility to tackle the enormity of voter suppression in elections across the country that followed the Shelby ruling.

“Just because polio may have subsided, you don’t stop the polio vaccination,” Jackson Lee said.

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