The fight for the right to vote passes to the Senate

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On Tuesday, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. In August, the House passed its version of this essential bill to protect American voters from racial discrimination at the ballot box. The purpose of the legislation is to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act to its full protective glory. To date, the effectiveness of this historic law has been undermined by two Supreme Court decisions.

In 2013, the court gutted the most powerful provision of the law. Under section 5, jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting were required to obtain federal approval, or preclearance, before implementing changes to their voting policies. In Shelby County v. Holder, a majority of the court said the criteria for determining which jurisdictions engaged in discriminatory electoral practices were outdated and did not reflect the racial progress the country had made. Immediately thereafter, jurisdictions formerly covered by preclearance began to aggressively implement new restrictive voting policies.

Then, this summer, the court also made it more difficult to challenge discriminatory election laws under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The majority did so by setting aside decades of precedent. Rather than examining how centuries of discrimination interact with a particular electoral policy to produce discrimination at the ballot box (as the courts have done for decades), the Supreme Court has instead created new ‘benchmarks’. To determine if the discrimination was serious enough for the judges to be involved. These guidelines are distorted in a way that makes it much more difficult for the courts to eliminate electoral discrimination, attributing the real charges to “mere inconvenience.”

Despite these disastrous decisions, the court said in both cases that Congress could update and clarify Sections 5 and 2 to eliminate racial discrimination in voting. This is exactly what the John Lewis Voting Rights Act does, and it couldn’t come at a more crucial time.

This week, we updated our list of states that have adopted voting restrictions in the past year. At least 19 states passed 33 laws in 2021 that make voting more difficult. Before Shelby, some of these states – Georgia and Texas, for example – had to validate their changes with the Department of Justice or a federal judge before putting them into practice. These laws are in addition to laws promulgated since Shelby decision that creates layers upon layers of voting restrictions, many of which probably would not have survived preclearance. These barriers add once again to what President Lyndon Johnson called “ingenious discrimination” when he called on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is designed to put an end to this nonsense. First, the new preclearance formula only targets jurisdictions with a current, persistent and pervasive history of racial discrimination in voting proven by repeated violations of federal law. Second, by strengthening section 2, the bill restores the ability of voters to challenge racially discriminatory electoral practices in jurisdictions not covered by the new preclearance formula.

When the Shelby The decision fell, the late Grand Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent: “Throwing in preclearance while it has worked and continues to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing your umbrella into a rainstorm. because you don’t get wet. With the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Congress drafted legislation that gives the courts an improved tool to help protect voters of color from the deluge of voter suppression laws that are now commonplace across the country.

The Senate must now do what the House has already done: pass the bill. And once it’s approved by Congress, President Biden is expected to sign it immediately. Otherwise, our electoral rules will once again make a mockery of our democracy’s most sacred promise: one person, one voice.

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