Administration

White House voices support for John Lewis voting rights bill

The Biden administration officially gave the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act its stamp of approval on Monday, as the House is set to reconvene this week to pass the bill along with a flurry of other high-profile legislation. 

“Some have sought to delegitimize the [November 2020] election and make it harder to vote, in many cases by targeting the methods of voting that made it possible for many voters to participate,” the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement. 

“These efforts violate the most basic ideals of America.”

House Democrats officially introduced the bill named after late Georgia congressman and voting rights champion John Lewis (D) last week.

Known formally as H.R. 4, the legislation will seek to reinstate the federal preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, which was rendered moot in 2013 by the Supreme Court.

The preclearance required states and jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination — largely the Jim Crow South — to gain approval from the Department of Justice before implementing any change to voting procedure. 

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the formula used to create the preclearance threshold was outdated and therefore unconstitutional. 

However, Chief Justice John Roberts at the time made it clear that Congress had the authority to update the formula. 

“In an essay published shortly after he died, Congressman John Lewis wrote, ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act,’” OMB continued.   

“This bill not only bears his name, it heeds his call.”

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which advocates argue took a hit in July from a separate Supreme Court ruling, is also addressed in the bill.

The ruling left in place a pair of Arizona voting rights restrictions, much to the consternation of Democrats.

In a searing dissent, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, one of the top court’s remaining liberal voices, wrote: “What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten — in order to weaken — a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses.”

Along with the For the People Act, H.R. 4 is congressional Democrats’ main strategy to combat the wave of state-level voting restrictions that have been proposed or passed across the country.

Since the beginning of the year, hundreds of restrictive voting laws have been introduced in Republican-controlled state legislatures. 

These efforts have seen dozens of these bills become law in 18 states, including in battlegrounds such as Florida, Georgia and Arizona. 

Democrats have blamed the wave of bills on what they call the “big lie” — the baseless claim by former President Trump that the election was stolen from him through rampant voter fraud. 

Republicans have adamantly dismissed the argument, citing the need for greater integrity in the country’s elections. 

Nonetheless, the new state voter laws will most likely have an impact on burgeoning midterm elections that are crucial for both parties. 

And with Democrats’ other voting rights bill — the For the People Act — on its last legs in the Senate thanks to zero Republican support, the John Lewis bill is Democrats’ last chance to pass meaningful legislation on voting rights before the end of the year. 

While H.R. 4 can pass the House without bipartisan support, it will need 10 Republican votes in the Senate to overcome the chamber’s filibuster.

Moderate Sens. Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have urged bipartisanship on the issue, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called the H.R. 4 “unnecessary.” 

The lack of GOP votes has led many Democrats to call for the end to the filibuster, something that moderates like Manchin don’t condone. 

A new exception to the filibuster that would allow voting rights legislation to bypass the procedural rule has been floated by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), but hasn’t gained significant buy-in.

President Biden, a longtime member of the Senate, has continued to stop short of supporting such a move, despite increasing pressure from members of his own party.  

OMB’s policy statement on H.R. 4 noted that the White House “looks forward to working with Congress as the [voting rights legislation] proceeds through the legislative process,” but didn’t mention the filibuster.

Tags Donald Trump Elena Kagan For the People Act Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Lewis John Lewis Voting Rights Act Mitch McConnell Voter suppression voting rights Voting Rights Act
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