In August 2021, the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), designed to reinforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Named after the civil rights leader who passed away last year, John Lewis’ work focused largely on enfranchising voters. He was also elected to represent Georgia on the House of Representatives, and oversaw multiple renewals of the Voting Rights Act. Right now, voter suppression primarily affects minorities, poorer communities, and people of color. These people do not have the power or the means to advocate for themselves and initiate reform. This bill would address racial discrimination and help the federal government block state election laws that discriminate against people of color.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed to ensure districts didn’t enforce laws or procedures that negatively affected minority voters, preventing districts from changing their election laws without authorization. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act was no longer necessary because the discrimination it was supposed to protect against no longer existed—allegedly. This ruling removed crucial protections against voter suppression and discrimination.
The John Lewis Act updates the Justice Department’s ability to allow election law changes in districts that have a history of discrimination against minority voters. Ultimately, it would make it harder for states to restrict voting access in the future.
Even though the bill has passed in the House, there is a slim chance of it passing in the evenly politically divided Senate. Almost no Republicans are likely to support this legislation, which means it falls short of the votes needed to send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk. Previously, Republicans in the Senate have blocked other voting rights bills. In June 2021, the For the People Act, which would have ended gerrymandering and established reforms that change campaign finance laws, and facilitate voting by expanding voter registration and access. Such rulings make it easier for minorities to be marginalized when they try to vote. Already, several Republican-led states have implemented alternative election laws that make it increasingly difficult to cast a vote, citing election fraud as justification for these changes. According to a report by the Brennan Centre for Justice, voter fraud is actually very rare. However, changes like stricter ID laws, shorter voting windows, and voter roll purges all provide barriers to voting and are particularly harmful to poorer communities and people of color. In other words, the marginalized are further disenfranchised. If not all people can have their voices fairly protected and heard, this cannot be a democracy and voting is not enough.
So far, multiple recent Supreme Court decisions have made it harder to change laws that discriminate against certain voters. In the 2020 election, many lawsuits were filed regarding certain voting restrictions. Several lower courts granted these requests, yet the conservative justices often overrode these and reinforced voting restrictions. If passed, the John Lewis Act would prevent justices from enforcing voter suppression laws across the United States, and prohibit the Supreme Court from reversing lower court decisions that protect voting rights. Essentially, it is court reform that restricts what the Supreme Court can do to disenfranchise voters. Currently, the people in charge of decision-making maintain power by restricting the rights of opposing groups. The conservative supermajority has shown that now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for sweeping reform.
Editors: Evie F., Sarah H., Raniyah B., Chris F.
This article was originally written in September 2021