House passes John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

The voting rights legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

August 24, 2021, 11:05 PM

Democrats and voting rights advocates are ramping up pressure for the Senate to pass federal voting rights legislation after the House on Tuesday passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act legislation that aims to strengthen a key component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 after it was weakened by two Supreme Court decisions.

The legislation, named after the late civil rights icon, passed the House with a final vote of 219- 212. There was no Republican support.

HR 4 would restore the pre-clearance formula from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a key provision that mandated federal review of local election laws and states with a history of voter discrimination, was removed after Shelby County, Alabama, filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court ruled that requiring states to seek approval from the Department of Justice prior to changing voting procedures was unconstitutional.

LaQuita Howard of Washington, with the League of Women Voters, attends a rally for voting rights, Aug. 24, 2021, near the White House in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

With at least 17 Republican-led state legislatures passing voting restrictions recently, Democrats and voting-rights advocates said the bill will ensure ballot access for minority voters.

"It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people, who have the right to vote and to have access to the polls. As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from what is the worst voter suppression campaign in America since Jim Crow. Unleashed by the dangerous Shelby v. Holder as mentioned in 2013, in 2021 state lawmakers have introduced over 400 suppression bills," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a debate on the House floor.

Pelosi stood with Rev. William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, along with other voting rights advocates Wednesday, to make a moral argument for a federal voting rights legislation.

“These voting rights and suppression is not just hurting black people, it's hutting brown people, it's going to hit Asian people. It's going to hit native people, it's going to hit disabled people, and they're going to hurt poor and low wealth people. And so we saw historic passing on the voting rights restoration act but it can't die in the house. We've got to have it passed in the Senate,” Barber told reporters.

During House Debate on HR.4 on Tuesday, Republicans blasted the bill as a "federal takeover of elections" and a "power grab" by Democrats who would undermine the state election process.

A voting rights activist holds a sign that reads "Pass The For The People Act" during a voting rights rally outside the White House, Aug. 24, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, who authored the bill, told reporters that federal intervention is necessary to combat what Democrats describe as voter suppression across the country.

"Old battles have become new again," Sewell said in a joint presser with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Democratic state lawmakers from Texas who have remained in the nation's capital after "fleeing" their home state to break quorum over six weeks ago to prevent a new state election law.

"When we see states running amuck, we need federal oversight. If it wasn't for federal oversight, we not only would not have gotten the Voting Rights Act, we wouldn't have gotten the Civil Rights Act. After the Shelby v. Holder decision, we saw states like North Carolina and Texas reinstate restrictive voting laws and those voting laws are suppressive, oppressive, and depressive. They stop the people who need to vote from voting," Sewell said Tuesday.

The House passed an older version of the voting rights act last year following the death of Lewis, but it ultimately stalled. The bill now faces a similar uphill battle this year as it moves to the Senate, where there is strong Republican opposition in the evenly divided body.