By Peter Eibert
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, otherwise known as H.R. 4, Tuesday in an effort to restore defunct parts of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
More specifically, H.R. 4 attempts to restore the VRA’s requirement that any states and localities with a history of voter discrimination must receive preclearance from the Department of Justice when changing their voting laws.
In 2013, the Supreme Court held in Shelby County v. Holder that the VRA’s preclearance requirement was unconstitutional, as the formula for determining which states and localities should be subject to federal review when changing their voting laws was woefully outdated.
They also held that the blatant discrimination of some state and local election laws present in the 1960s that justified federal authority over such laws is nonexistent today.
H.R. 4 also aims to amend Section 2 of the VRA to reduce the difficulty of challenging instances of voter discrimination.
In 2021, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brnovich v. DNC allegedly made it more difficult for parties to challenge racially discriminatory voting laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
H.R. 4 was also a reaction to the recent slew of states changing their voting laws.
Specifically, 18 states enacted 30 new allegedly restrictive, anti-voter laws after former President Trump and many Republican lawmakers questioned the integrity of the last presidential election.
The most famous of these bills is the Georgia Senate Bill 202.
Democratic lawmakers claim that Georgia’s new voter law purposefully makes it more difficult for minorities to vote by reducing the amount of ballot drop boxes, restricting voting hours, banning people from handing out food or water to voters within a certain distance of polling sites, and requiring some form of ID to verify voters’ identities when they vote by mail in order to replace the current system of signature matching.
On the other hand, Republican lawmakers largely support such voting reforms, claiming they ensure that elections will be secure, fair, and accessible.
H.R. 4 passed despite objections from Republican lawmakers. Democratic lawmakers subsequently held a celebratory press conference on Tuesday evening after H.R. 4’s passage.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07), who introduced H.R. 4, asserted that “the right to vote is the most sacred and fundamental right we enjoy as American citizens.” She further held that therefore, “federal oversight is urgently needed” as “our democracy is at stake.”
Other notable Democratic representatives were also in attendance, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY-10), Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27).
Congresswoman Chu continued to praise H.R. 4 for combatting the “onslaught of new discriminatory voting laws,” holding that H.R. 4 will “strengthen, update, and restore the Voting Rights Act [of 1965] through its new formula.”
Sewell closed the meeting by urging the Senate to swiftly pass H.R. 4 to “get it to the desk of President [Joe] Biden, because we know it will get signed [into law].”
However, passage in the Senate could be a bit tricky, as Democrats and Republicans both essentially hold 50 seats.
Political observers noted there is a very high probability of the Senate passing H.R. 4 if the initial vote were to be a tie – Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote if that were to occur.