House Democrats Introduce John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act Into Congress

The legislative effort, led by Rep. Terri Sewell, seeks to restore gutted sections of the Voting Rights Act

Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell is determined to guide legislation through Congress that restores voting rights protections that civil rights activists earned under the threats of death. The Birmingham Democrat sponsored the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, which Senate Republicans derailed. Undaunted by the ongoing political headwinds, now she is making another attempt.

On Tuesday (Sept. 19), Sewell reintroduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2023, named in honor of the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, to restore and modernize the protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).

“Generations of Americans—many in my hometown of Selma, Alabama—marched, fought, and even died for the equal right of all Americans to vote. But today, their legacy and our very democracy are under attack as MAGA extremists target voters with new laws to restrict voting access. Ten years after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight for voting rights has never been more urgent,” Sewell said in a statement.

The bill seeks to repair damage to the VRA from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision that gutted “preclearance” from the law. That provision required states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal approval to change voting rules.

Sewell’s bill would restore preclearance by establishing a new method to determine which jurisdictions have a recent history of discrimination, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Additionally, the measure would restore Section 2 of the VRA. The high court’s 2021 decision in  Brnovich v. DNC made it more difficult to challenge discriminatory voting laws in court.

Rep. Terri Sewell

Senate GOP Rejection of John Lewis Voting Rights Act Leaves Democratic Lawmakers Infuriated

In a party-line vote, the Democratic-controlled House pushed through Sewell’s first voting rights bill in 2021 despite opposition from House Republicans. But Senate Republicans blocked the bill, 50 - 49, in a procedural vote on whether to open a debate on the legislation.

“It is now crystal clear—Senate Republicans will make it impossible to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster and pass this critical voting rights reform,” Sewell said at that time. “The choice is simple. We either make common sense reforms to the filibuster or we let extremist politicians continue to erect barriers to the ballot box in states across this nation.”

Sewell’s second attempt to pass the voting rights measure appears unlikely with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats, once again, with a slim majority in the Senate.

But House Democrats say they’re unified and determined to ensure fair access to the ballot.

After former president Donald Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020, Republican lawmakers in several states passed various restrictions that made it more complicated for some voters to cast a ballot in elections. They have claimed that the new rules were needed to prevent fraud, even though conservative groups audited key states Trump lost in 2020 and debunked the claims of widespread voter fraud.

“The right to vote is sacred; it is central to the very integrity of our democracy,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said. “Unfortunately, extreme MAGA Republicans have decided that the only way they can win elections is to engage in massive voter suppression. It’s unconscionable; it’s unacceptable and un-American. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will help ensure that every American has access to the ballot box so we can crush this epidemic of voter suppression once and for all.”

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