By Michelle D. Schwartz, Director of Justice Programs
After a Supreme Court majority issued an opinion striking at the heart of the Voting Rights Act last summer, we called on Congress to act, notwithstanding the many people (perhaps including Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored that opinion) who doubted whether they would—or even could.
Today, a group of members of Congress took a critical first step toward silencing the doubters. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,led the introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act. As has been the case with every other Voting Rights Act,, this is a bipartisan effort, with additional House cosponsors including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.,, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas We applaud them all for coming together to protect our fundamental rights.
Introduction of this bill signals a recognition by people who don’t typically get along—senators and house members, Democrats and Republicans—that our democracy remains imperfect, that people are still denied the right to vote based on the color of their skin, and that voting is special because every single other right depends upon the right to vote. As AFJ President Nan Aron said following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder: “Attempts to suppress the vote were common during the 2012 presidential election, and they continue to this day.”
The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 is not perfect. For example, the bill needs to do more to protect minority voters from the most common and widespread recent attempt to deny them the right to vote: restrictive, unnecessary voter ID laws. We
look forward to working with the cosponsors to strengthen the bill.