Schakowsky Votes to Protect the Right to Vote for All Americans, Honor the Legacy of John Lewis

August 24, 2021
Press Release

Schakowsky speaking on the House floor

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, voted to protect the sacred right to vote with H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  As the United States faces the worst voter suppression campaign since Jim Crow, this landmark legislation will fight back against the partisan, anti-democratic barriers keeping voters — especially voters of color — from the ballot box by restoring the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

During debate on the House floor, Congresswoman Schakowsky delivered the following remarks:

“One of the greatest honors and privileges of my life has been to serve with John Lewis, who I had the privilege of calling a precious friend. In August, 58 years ago, John Lewis, the young John Lewis, led a march to Washington with Martin Luther King. And on August 16th of 1965, the momentous Voting Rights Act was signed into law, thanks to John Lewis. And today, on August 24th, 2021, we are here to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that he almost gave his life to pass all those years ago will now be restored. The power of the vote and the right to vote will be restored in this new legislation named for our dear friend and the conscience of this Congress. Let's vote yes!” 

For decades, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) empowered the federal government to block certain states and localities with dark histories of discriminatory barriers to voting from enacting restrictions on the right to vote.  However, in its disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the U.S. Department of Justice’s “preclearance” power under the VRA.  In July 2021, the Court further weakened the law in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, which made it more difficult for the federal government to challenge discriminatory voting laws. 

As a result of the Shelby decision, states began passing voter suppression laws, because there was no preclearance requirement hindering them.  The restrictive laws – including voter roll purges, restrictions to mail-in voting, elimination of polling places and more – have disproportionately reduced turnout among communities of color, voters with disabilities, young adults and older voters.  This has been meticulously documented by the Democratic House over two Congresses. 

This year, Republican-controlled state legislatures across the nation have accelerated their voter suppression campaign, fed by former President Trump’s Big Lie about the results of the 2020 election.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 18 states have already enacted 30 laws that restrict the right to vote, and more than 400 voter suppression bills are still actively being considered across the country. 

Named for the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, H.R. 4 restores the preclearance requirement, allowing the federal government to once again reject many restrictions to voting, and creates a new practice-based preclearance requirement.  The bill also eliminates the heightened standard for challenging voter suppression laws, which was created by the Brnovich decision. 

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will also:

  • Allow federal courts to immediately halt measures that put voting rights at stake until a final ruling is made.
  • Empower the Attorney General to request that federal election observers be present anywhere in the country where discriminatory voting practices pose a serious threat.
  • Require reasonable public notice for proposed voting changes to increase transparency.
  • Allow the federal government to review already-enacted but not-yet-implemented measures.
  • Help plaintiffs seek injunctive relief for voting rights violations ahead of an election. 
  • Establish a grant program for small jurisdictions to help them comply with the bill’s requirement to provide public notice for proposed voting laws. 

After passing today in the House, H.R. 4 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

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