WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Sept. 19, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced H.R. 14, commonly called the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2023, a landmark piece of pro-voting legislation that would strengthen core provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. Sewell was joined by every House Democrat in introducing the bill.
The legislation had previously been introduced by Sewell in the last Congress, and was passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives in August 2021. H.R. 14 would revitalize the VRA, in large part by introducing a new formula for determining which states are subject to preclearance. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the previous formula in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, effectively nullifying Section 5, which required states with histories of discriminatory voting practices to receive federal approval before passing new voting laws and enacting new maps.
In an op-ed written exclusively for Democracy Docket on the reintroduction, Sewell points to the fact that “at least 29 states have passed a total of almost 100 restrictive voting laws” in the decade since Shelby County, which led to “a wave of restrictive voting bills, extreme gerrymandering, voter roll purges and polling location closures — all targeting voters of color.”
The reintroduced bill would further expand voting rights by strengthening Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits “the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color,” and provide a legal avenue for parties to file lawsuits under this provision. In 2021, the Supreme Court weakened Section 2 in Brnovich v. DNC by adding five additional qualifiers for lawsuits to be brought, such as the size of a burden a law may have, and this bill would remove that heightened standard.
In the Democracy Docket op-ed published earlier today, Sewell wrote that “[t]he John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, together with the Freedom to Vote Act…will ensure that every eligible American has access to the ballot box and protect against the anti-democratic attacks in state legislatures across the nation.”