Jul 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

48 senators call on McConnell to allow vote on bill restoring Voting Rights Act

John Lewis stands in a suit and tie
Rep. John Lewis waits to enter the Senate chamber in December 2019. Photo: Tom Williams

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill with the support of 47 co-sponsors on Wednesday that would fully restore the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the name of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Why it matters: The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act aims to counter the Supreme Court's controversial 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted voter protections that had required states with a history of racial discrimination to gain federal approval before changing voting laws.

  • Lewis, who passed away last Friday, fought his entire life to secure equal voting rights and did not live to see the Voting Rights Act restored.
  • The Senate bill named in his honor would also provide the federal government with "other critical tools to combat what has become a full-fledged assault on Americans’ right to vote," Leahy said in a statement.
  • The bill was co-sponsored by every Democratic senator and the two independents who caucus with Democrats, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

The state of play: The Democratic-led House passed a similar bill to restore the Voting Rights Act in 2019, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declined to bring it up for a vote.

What they're saying: “John called voting ‘the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.’ He was right. And that’s why we cannot stand idly by while states engage in flagrant suppression schemes to take this tool away from marginalized communities," Leahy said in a speech on the Senate floor.

  • "The House already passed the companion to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in December. Now we must do our part. We cannot claim to honor the life of John Lewis if we refuse to carry on his life’s work. Or worse, if we stand in the way of that work."

Go deeper: Jim Clyburn calls for Congress to pass John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020

Editor's note: This post has been corrected to reflect that 48 senators back the bill (not 47).

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