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Democrats face pressure to act on voting rights after Supreme Court ruling

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Congressional Democrats are facing increasing pressure to enact voting rights legislation after the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld voting restrictions in Arizona. This comes as several Republican-led states have considered or enacted a raft of bills limiting voting access in the wake of former President Trump’s electoral loss.

The decision from the court, which split 6-3 along ideological lines, found that two voting rules in the battleground state of Arizona do not violate a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, also outlined several factors to be considered when weighing future challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which could make it more difficult to challenge restrictive state election laws.

In several key battleground states controlled by Republicans, many with changing demographics, bills restricting voting rights were introduced amid Mr. Trump’s repeated lies that the presidential election was stolen. Although the bills’ supporters argue that these restrictive measures are necessary to counter voter irregularities, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, and critics note that these bills disproportionately affect poorer and minority voters.

President Biden condemned the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement on Thursday, calling on Congress to pass measures to shore up the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was largely undone by the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 and further weakened by the Arizona ruling.

“The Court’s decision, harmful as it is, does not limit Congress’ ability to repair the damage done today: it puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength,” Mr. Biden said.

Congressional Democrats also swiftly condemned the ruling, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying that the opinion “only further underscore the need for Congress to act to preserve democracy.”

“It is simply unconscionable that the Court’s conservative majority chose to double down on their gutting of the Voting Rights Act, failing to properly respond to a wave of restrictive and discriminatory laws in the wake of Shelby and a flood of suppressive laws that have followed President Trump’s Big Lie about the November election,” Schumer said.

However, any efforts to overhaul voting rights in Congress will face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority with 50 seats. Republicans last month blocked a procedural vote to advance a sweeping voting reforms bill in the Senate, with the 50-50 vote falling far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The bill, known as the For the People Act or S.1, would be the greatest overhaul of election laws in a generation, revamping government ethics and campaign finance laws and seeking to strengthen voting rights through measures such as automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. But Republicans have assailed the bill as a power grab by Democrats, and argued that it would amount to federal overreach.

Democrats have also pinned their hopes for election reform on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which so far has the support of a single Senate Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski. The bill has not yet been introduced, but would restore a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. That provision required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to receive approval, known as preclearance, from the Justice Department before making changes to their voting rules.

In a statement on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to counter the Supreme Court’s rulings on voting rights and on campaign finance.

“The For The People would be a remedy for the assault on the vote and on our democracy, and would prevent the disasters in both cases. We also need H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to combat the brazen voter suppression threatening to erode our democracy,” Pelosi said.

Congressional Democrats are already moving quickly to get the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act written and passed by the fall. A House subcommittee is conducting field hearings to compile evidence of discriminatory practices that will then be shared with the Judiciary Committee, which will do the markup for the bill.

“Congress must act where the Court has failed voters across the country. The House Judiciary Committee will expeditiously complete its work on an updated John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and move to bring legislation to the House floor as quickly as possible,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler and Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Chair Steve Cohen said in a statement on Thursday.

The Congressional Black Caucus earlier this week pushed for the hearings on the bill to be completed this month so that it can be taken up by early fall. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court decision is another attempt to disenfranchise American voters. The CBC, the conscience of the congress, will not be silent, and we will use every legislative avenue we have to pass H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to strengthen our voting laws and expand ballot access for eligible voters,” the caucus said in a statement on Friday.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, who introduced the bill in the last Congress and is expected to do so again for the updated bill, also said in a statement that she is “hard at work crafting with the House Judiciary Committee and stakeholder groups.”

But Republicans have also raised concerns about the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, arguing that it would result in undue federal interference in states’ election administration. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has come out against the bill, calling it “unnecessary.”

Nikole Killion and Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.


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