Rep. Sewell Praises Passage of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
August 23, 2021
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) praised the House passage of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which she introduced last week. This critical legislation would restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and keep the promise of our democracy for all Americans. Amid the most coordinated state-level effort to restrict the right to vote in generations, H.R. 4 would prevent states and localities with a recent history of voter discrimination from restricting the right to vote by requiring these jurisdictions to obtain federal preclearance before changing their voting laws. Supported by every House Democrat, H.R. 4 passed in the House of Representatives today by a vote of 219-212.
“Today, the House took an important step in our continued struggle to keep the promise of our democracy alive for all Americans,” said Rep. Sewell. “With the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act today, we’re preserving and advancing the legacy of those brave Foot Soldiers like John Lewis who shed blood on that bridge for the right of all Americans to vote.”
“The passage of H.R. 4 couldn’t come at a more critical time,” continued Sewell. “As states and localities erect deliberate barriers to the ballot box at an unprecedented pace, the need for federal oversight has never been more urgent. The Senate must now use every tool at its disposal to pass this bill and ensure it lands on President Biden’s desk. There is absolutely no time to waste.”
For decades, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) prevented states and localities from restricting the right to vote. However, in its disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the law, invalidating Section 4 and striking down the formula used to determine which jurisdictions are subject to federal oversight. In July 2021, the Court further weakened the law in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, making it more difficult to challenge discriminatory voting laws under Section 2.
Since 2013, there has been a steady increase in the number of restrictive voting laws that disproportionately suppress turnout among minorities, young adults, and the elderly. This accelerated in 2021 with the Big Lie of a “stolen election.” Just this year, 18 states have enacted at least 30 laws to restrict access to the vote.
Named for the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Robert Lewis, H.R. 4 restores Section 4 of the VRA by establishing a modern-day formula that requires states and localities with a recent history of voter discrimination to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws.
For areas to qualify for judicial pre-clearance, they must have the following qualifications:
- States with a history of 15 or more violations at any level in the previous 25 years
- States with a history of 10 or more violations, if one violation occurs at the state level in the previous 25 years
- Subdivisions with 3 or more violations in the subdivision in the previous 25 years
H.R. 4 also restores Section 2 of the VRA by clarifying congressional intent and eliminating the heightened standard created by the Supreme Court in Brnovich v. DNC that makes it more difficult to challenge discriminatory voting laws.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act also:
- Allows federal courts to immediately halt questionable voting practices until a final ruling is made. This provision recognizes that when voting rights are at stake, prohibiting a discriminatory practice after the election has concluded is too late to truly protect voters' rights.
- Gives the Attorney General authority to request that federal observers be present anywhere in the country where discriminatory voting practices pose a serious threat.
- Increases transparency by requiring reasonable public notice for voting changes.
- Includes a retrogression standard for already-enacted but not-yet-implemented measures.
- Help plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief for voting rights violations in the lead-up to an election.
- Establishes a grant program for small jurisdictions to help them comply with the bill’s various notice requirements.
H.R. 4 now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Bill text can be found here.