Senate Democrats introduce legislation to strengthen Voting Rights Act

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) speaks to a reporter as he heads to the Senate Chamber for a vote following a Democratic Caucus luncheon on Thursday, September 30, 2021.
Greg Nash

Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled new legislation aimed at strengthening the Voting Rights Act. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act” along with 48 other senators.

In a floor speech, Leahy said the legislation was the “culmination of many months of tireless work across the halls of Congress – exactly what Congressman Lewis would have wanted to see.”

“Today, tens of thousands of Americans are being disenfranchised under the guise of state law,” Leahy said. “Make no mistake: This tidal wave of voter suppression efforts seeks to bend the arc of equal justice and equal rights backwards. This simply cannot stand.” 

The legislation would update the Voting Rights Act to strengthen sections that were gutted by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision and 2021 Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision. 

The Shelby County decision gutted Section 5 of the law, which allowed the Justice Department to screen voting changes in states with a history of racial discrimination.

The Brnovich decision, which was decided earlier this year, upheld a pair of Arizona voting restrictions that Democrats said threatened to suppress the vote of racial minorities. Advocates decried the ruling as a weakening of Section 2 of the VRA, which barred racially-targeted voting policies.

Democrats have tried to pass voting rights legislation this year amid the Brnovich decision and other efforts in GOP-led states that would make it more difficult to vote.  

Last month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced a bill that would introduce a wave of voting rights reforms, including making it easier to register to vote and setting a minimum early voting window.

But any legislation in the Senate would need 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, which Democrats currently do not have in an evenly divided Senate.

Tags Amy Klobuchar John Lewis John Lewis Voting Rights Act Patrick Leahy Senate Democrats Supreme Court voting rights
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