Rep. Jackson Lee looks to limit state redistricting after voting rights ruling

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is introducing legislation that would block states from rearranging their congressional districts until after a 10-year Census takes place, a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act.

"We cannot afford to sit back and watch our country move backwards — as legislators we must act," Jackson Lee said Wednesday. "[B]ased on the Shelby case and its rationale, it is clear that Voting Rights Act is needed more than ever."

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The high court on Tuesday struck down language in the act that establishes the criteria for determining which state and local governments must clear voting rules changes with the federal government, based on their history of having an under-representation of minority voters.

In its opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, the court said the language is outdated and unconstitutional, as it does not reflect the changes in the country since the act became law in 1965.

The Tuesday ruling led many Democrats to argue that the court nullified the Voting Rights Act and calls from civil-rights groups for lawmakers to find a way to update the legislation and protect voters.

Voting rights advocates say the decision could spur state officials to loosen the rules they use for redistricting decisions.

"The Voting Rights Act has been one of the most effective civil-rights laws passed by Congress and needs to be reinforced vigorously," said Jackson Lee on Wednesday about her measure, the Coretta Scott King Mid-decade Redistricting Prohibition Act.

The bill would prevent any immediate redistricting decisions, and would only allow states to redistrict after the 10-year Census. The language would only apply to federal elections, not state and local elections. The prohibition on mid-decade redistricting, however, could be overturned by a court decision.

Jackson Lee's bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas).

It is unclear if lawmakers will move on redefining the formula for requiring states to seek federal pre-clearance before changing voting rules.

On Wednesday, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) urged his colleagues to act quickly to ensure the rights of voters.

"The court was clear that Congress must update the criteria by which states and local governments would be found to disenfranchise voters," Garamendi said.

"Congress should quickly act to set those standards in place, so that every American can be confident that their vote will be counted and actually counts in determining the outcome of an election," he added.

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