SCOTUS Further Weakened the Voting Rights Act. Now What?

A cracked U.S. Supreme Court building with five columns tinted red and three tinted blue

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court failed the American people by further weakening the Voting Rights Act, eliminating almost all of its enforcement provisions. 

The Court’s decision comes as a coordinated attack on voting rights is being waged by dark money groups and Republicans with an intensity not seen since Jim Crow. That includes 389 bills to restrict people’s right to vote, especially people of color, that self-serving politicians have introduced in 48 states across the country. At least 28 bills have already become law.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate used a procedural tactic to block the For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1), which would set national standards to protect every American’s freedom to vote and counter the anti-voting bills in the states. 

Despite all that, there is still a real and clear path for robust voter protections. 

Democrats — representing over 41 million more people than the Republicans who opposed the For the People Act — stand committed to passing a comprehensive voting rights and government reform bill. Negotiations are wrapping up on a stronger, modified Act that will draw the support of Democrats in the Senate and the House. The Senate can pass that bill and it should not let process or procedure stand in the way. 

The truth is that Republicans have made restricting the freedom to vote a central part of their platform, and they have rejected every proposal, compromise or not, that has come their way.  

Bipartisan cooperation is a worthy goal, but there’s nothing noble in passively watching the systematic destruction of every safeguard that protects our right to vote. Democrats have a limited window to pursue Republican support, but, when that window closes, it will be time to act. 

The truth is that Republicans have made restricting the freedom to vote a central part of their platform, and they have rejected every proposal, compromise or not, that has come their way.  

So when the August deadline to pass the For the People Act comes — a deadline set by Leader Schumer to preempt Republicans from using extreme partisan gerrymandering to rewrite congressional districts (another front they have opened in their war on democracy) — Democrats will likely need to act alone. That means reforming the outdated filibuster rule that gives partisan extremists a veto over the majority.  

There is nothing remarkable or extraordinary about modifying the filibuster. The Senate has altered the filibuster to enshrine a 50 vote threshold in a number of areas, including for trade deals, budgets and tax cuts (reconciliation) and to confirm judges. Surely protecting the right to vote is equally important. 

In the last 50 years, the Senate has used exceptions and new rules to the filibuster more than 160 times to pass legislation and confirm nominations, and recently did so for the American Rescue Act and the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett.  

To avoid being paralyzed at a moment like this, when inaction is not an option, the Senate must rise to the occasion. As it has done before when one party itself is posing a threat to the freedom to vote, it must act to protect voting rights. It did this when passing both the 14th and 15th  Amendments on party-line votes.

Passing the For the People Act will take nothing more than a true commitment to protecting our right to vote and the foundation of our democracy. It’s that simple. 

The Senate must take these steps to pass the For the People Act quickly, because it’s the only way to counter the restrictive voting bills that are being passed in the states. It’s also our only shot right now to stop partisan gerrymandering, strengthen ethics laws and end dark money so billionaires can’t buy elections.  

Next, the Senate must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. This bill is not a substitution for S. 1, but it is just as critical. It will strengthen many of the tools the Supreme Court weakened from the Voting Rights Act and will be instrumental in preventing future voter suppression. 

Together, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act will protect everyone’s voice and vote, hold politicians accountable and ensure that government works for everyone, not just corporate interests and big donors. Democracy works best when more people participate and have a say in the big decisions that affect their lives. 

The Senate can make that happen. It needs only to act, and to act now.  

Tiffany Muller is the President of End Citizens United and Let America Vote.