House Democrats reintroduce John Lewis Voting Rights Act

September 19, 2023

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) was leading a group of House Democrats Tuesday in reintroducing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the late Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights icon, would restore a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. It required states with a history of voting rights discrimination (mostly in the South) to get permission from the DOJ before changing their voting laws—a practice known as “preclearance.”

It was passed in the then-Democratic-led House in 2021 but failed to pass a necessary 60-vote filibuster in the Senate. 

According to Rep. Sewell, “The whole movement for voting rights, we know that we can’t give up, that old battles have become new again, even though we thought that this battle for voting rights was won on a bridge in my hometown.”

Numerous voting rights advocacy organizations have applauded the reintroduction of the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, Democracy Docket, the NAACP, and the National Organization for Women (NOW). 

In a statement, League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase Solomón said, “Our freedom to vote is under attack and this legislation is needed now more than ever. We’ve seen too many recent attempts to chip away at our democracy, with voter suppression efforts diluting the fundamental right to vote for voters of color. Our elected leaders must act now before voters go to the polls in next year’s elections.” 

As in its previous version, Sewell’s latest bill responds to two Supreme Court decisions that have added challenges to the right to vote. It not only resurrects the “preclearance” requirements effectively eliminated in 2013’s Shelby County v Holder decision, it also addresses 2021’s Brnovich v Democratic National Committee which made it harder to bring lawsuits challenging racial discrimination under Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The new bill would codify factors that courts would have to consider when reviewing claims of voter suppression. 

It remains in question, however, whether the new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can pass in a House of Representatives narrowly controlled by a five-seat Republican majority.  

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