House passes Voting Rights bill with just one Republican vote

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The Voting Rights Advancement Act aims to restore protections decimated by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, by a vote of 228-186 on Friday.

Just one Republican — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) — voted for it, while 186 Republicans voted no.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), would undo some of the damage to voting rights caused by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling and would curb many of the techniques Republicans have used to suppress minority turnout in recent years.

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The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, guarantees that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" and gives Congress the authority to enforce that right by "appropriate legislation." But a series of voter suppression laws made it almost impossible for millions of black citizens to register until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Section 5 of that law — and a bipartisan 25-year reauthorization passed in 2006 and signed by President George W. Bush — required additional protections for states with an especially strong history of racial voting discrimination. But in a 5 to 4 decision in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted those provisions, deciding that widespread racial discrimination was no longer a problem in most of those places.

The lack of GOP support is a significant change from past voting rights legislation. The House Republican minority voted 112 to 24 in favor of the 1965 law and the 2006 GOP majority voted 192 to 33 for the reauthorization.

The new bill would work within the Supreme Court's framework to restore the Justice Department's power to examine voting law changes in places with a history of discrimination and would add new protections against common tactics, like reductions to early voting options and minority voter registration purges.

When she introduced the bill in February, Sewell noted that her district includes the city where Civil Rights activists were brutally beaten as they marched for their right to vote in March 1965.

"In my hometown of Selma and throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, Americans bled, marched and died for the right to vote, but the modern-day voter suppression we saw in the 2018 mid-term elections shows that old battles have become new again," she said, adding that the bill would help "protect and advance the legacy of those brave foot soldiers of the civil rights movement by restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and empowering the Justice Department to stop voter suppression tactics before they go into place."

The bill now faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has introduced a companion version, though none of the bill's 45 co-sponsors are Republicans.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked more than 400 other pieces House-passed legislation this year and has vowed to obstruct all progressive bills.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.