SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Pat Romanski, Sean Houghton, Glenn Rossman, Ignacio M. Llorente, Xenia von Wedel

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Leahy, Sensenbrenner, Conyers Lead Bipartisan, Bicameral Introduction Of Bill To Restore Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Following the bipartisan tradition of the Voting Rights Act, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) Thursday to introduce bipartisan legislation to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law.

The legislation supported by a range of civil rights groups, is a bicameral, bipartisan response to the Supreme Court's Shelby County decision which struck down a core provision in the Voting Rights Act. That provision determines how states are covered under Section 5 of the law, which requires Federal preclearance to protect against discriminatory voting measures. The bill updates the coverage formula by making all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years.  States and jurisdictions that have had a clean record over last 15 years would not be subject to coverage.

"Through months of negotiation and compromise, Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers and I have agreed on a bipartisan and bicameral proposal to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court's decision last summer," Leahy said.  "Our sole focus throughout this entire process was to ensure that no American would be denied his or her constitutional right to vote because of discrimination on the basis of race or color.  We believe that this is a strong bipartisan bill that accomplishes this goal and that every member of Congress can support."

President Lyndon Johnson signed the first Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, and it has been reauthorized four times since. President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization into law in 2006, after the House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 in favor of the legislation. 

Sensenbrenner, who led House consideration in 2006 and who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer about the importance of the Voting Rights Act, said Thursday that "This legislation is a direct response to Shelby County v. Holder. When that ruling came down last summer, I knew the VRA must be fixed before the next election and any solution must be politically palatable while complying with the objections of the Supreme Court. The modernized VRA is constitutional and bipartisan. It includes strong, nationwide anti-discrimination protections and continues to permit states to enact reasonable voter ID laws. Therefore, it prevents racial-discrimination and gives states the ability to address voter fraud."

Conyers, ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who cosponsored the original Voting Rights Act in 1965, said that "Nearly fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful vision of 'jobs, justice, and peace' inspired my first run for Congress and became the cause of my life. After being sworn in as freshman Member of the 89th Congress, the first vote of consequence that I took was for the Voting Rights Act. Although the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are introducing a strengthened and renewed Voting Rights Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to the cornerstone of our democracy: the right to vote."

A section-by-section outline of the legislation and full text of the bill are available on the Leahy website (leahy.senate.gov).

Key provisions in the bill include:

  • A coverage provision based on current conditions. The bill establishes a rolling nationwide trigger that covers states or jurisdictions that have a persistent record of recent voting rights violations in the last 15 years.
  • Allows federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance. The current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for intentional violations, but the new legislation amends the Act to allow states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based violations.
  • Greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes.  The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.
  • Allows for preliminary relief to be obtained more readily, given that voting rights cannot often be vindicated after an election is already over.
  • Includes modest provisions that continue to permit states to enact reasonable photo identification laws.

SOURCE Office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

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