Forty-eight senators introduced legislation on Wednesday to restore the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. The lawmakers named the new bill after civil rights icon John Lewis, a member of Congress from Georgia who passed away Friday.
The “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act”—sponsored by 47 Democrats and Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)—would require that any state with a history of voting discrimination within the past 25 years seek federal approval before making any changes to its voting procedures. And it would mandate that any state, regardless of its history, obtain clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, DC, before making any changes that would tend to burden voters of color, such as strict voter ID laws or closing polling places in areas with large numbers of minority voters.
In December, Lewis presided over the Democratic-controlled House as it passed identical legislation to restore the VRA. But Republicans have refused to take up the bill in the Senate, which has now been reintroduced and renamed after Lewis.
Lewis nearly died in March 1965 when he was brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers during a voting rights march in Selma—an event that helped lead to the passage of the original Voting Rights Act later that year. Lewis devoted his life to expanding access to the ballot, calling the vote “the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.”
“We cannot claim to honor the life of John Lewis if we refuse to carry on his life’s work,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chief sponsor of the new legislation, said on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday. “Or worse, if we stand in the way of that work.”
As I explain in a new video for Mother Jones, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted his praise for Lewis over the weekend but has been blocking a vote on legislation to restore the VRA for more than 225 days.