House Democrats introduced a voting rights bill Tuesday on the site where the late congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., was brutally assaulted in 1965 as he and others marched for civil rights for Black Americans.
Standing at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., led Democrats in advocating for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would protect voters from discrimination by restoring and strengthening elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The bill is the latest effort in the yearslong attempt to restore parts of the landmark law that the Supreme Court controversially gutted in 2013. Lewis advocated for strengthening the Voting Rights Act until his death just a year ago and is often invoked by voting rights activists who have taken up his lifelong fight to make voting more accessible.
The push for the measure comes as GOP-led legislatures across the country seek to limit voting access and as efforts to pass a more sweeping voting rights bill have stalled in the evenly divided Senate.
The House is poised to vote on the measure next week.
“The right to vote is the most sacred and fundamental right we enjoy as American citizens and one that the foot soldiers fought, bled and died for in my hometown of Selma, Alabama,” Sewell said Tuesday. “With the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, we’re standing up and fighting back. By preventing states with a recent history of voter discrimination from restricting the right to vote, this bill restores the full promise of our democracy and advances the legacy of those brave foot soldiers like John Lewis who dedicated their lives for the sacred right to vote.”
In 2013, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority argued that race-based voter discrimination no longer existed and that the need to monitor the election process of certain states with a history of racism in the voting process was outdated. Voting rights advocates – including those from states with a history of Jim Crow laws against Black Americans – disagree.
“Across the country, we continue to bear witness to GOP attacks on voting rights with restrictive laws and voter-ID rules to prevent people of color, students, and others from having their voices heard at the ballot box,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement Tuesday. “House Democrats will not falter in the fight for the right to vote, and we remain committed to ensuring our democracy can prosper and continue to deliver for the people.”
More than 190 lawmakers – most of them Democrats – have co-sponsored Sewell’s bill as multiple majority-Republican legislatures across the country have introduced laws that critics say could make voting more difficult for people of color, people with disabilities and those Americans living in underserved and under-resourced communities.
Though a bipartisan group of lawmakers previously pledged to move forward with legislation that addresses the concerns of voting rights advocates, the Senate began a monthlong recess this month without making significant strides on any legislation.
Republican senators blocked the For the People Act in June, opposing its provisions regarding campaign finance, elections and ethics, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling the bill “ridiculous” and an attempt to give an advantage to Democrats in upcoming elections. The likelihood of enough Republicans joining Democrats in passing voting legislation is low in the eyes of many liberal advocates, leading them to put their hopes in persuading the few Democratic holdouts to support eliminating the filibuster – the 60-vote threshold for legislation to overcome opposition and become law.
Hoyer told Democrats on Tuesday that the House will reconvene Monday and that he expects a vote Monday night on one rule for the voting rights legislation, budget resolution and the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. Lawmakers aim to consider the voting rights bill Tuesday.
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The Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.