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Congress’s Swift, Bipartisan Effort Responds to Supreme Court’s Shelby vs. Holder Decision

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1/16/14

Congress’s Swift, Bipartisan Effort Responds to Supreme Court’s Shelby vs. Holder Decision

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) commends the Members of Congress who today, in a strong bipartisan showing, introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.

The introduction of this bill—just seven months after the Supreme Court’s devastating ruling in Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder—demonstrates Congress’ recognition of the urgent need to ensure the protection of the right to vote.

“Although not perfect, this bill is an important first step,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “There is much more work for Congress, civil rights groups, and communities to do. Our common aim is to ensure that all Americans can participate equally in the political process. The bill released today provides an excellent starting point for public engagement in this process. It’s imperative that we all work together to ensure that no one is denied the right to vote, particularly on account of their race or language minority status. We applaud the courageous, bipartisan effort to press through a voting rights bill, despite the many other urgent matters facing our Congress.”

LDF is committed to ensuring that the final legislation protects all Americans’ right to vote. “We will work with Congress, community groups, and our colleagues in the civil rights community over the next weeks and months to strengthen this bill to ensure that it protects all voters against discrimination,” said Leslie Proll, Director of LDF’s Washington office.

In Shelby County, the Supreme Court struck as unconstitutional the provision of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states and localities with chronic histories and ongoing experiences with racial discrimination in voting to receive pre-implementation review of their voting changes.

This new bill includes several important provisions, including: a mechanism that identifies those places with the worst recent record of voting discrimination and requires them to receive pre-implementation review of their voting changes; a provision that enhances the ability to obtain preliminary injunctive relief when challenging voting changes likely to be discriminatory; a provision that expands the authority of federal courts to order pre-implementation review for jurisdictions found to have discriminated against voters of color; and a nationwide notification of potential voting changes to enhance transparency and accountability and enable communities to challenge potentially discriminatory changes before elections.

“Millions of voters of color were made even more vulnerable to racial discrimination by the Supreme Court’s devastating ruling in Shelby County,” said Ryan Haygood, Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group. “Today, less than a year after that shameful ruling, Congress took a bold step toward restoring our nation’s discrimination checkpoint, and helping to ensure that voters of color have full, equal, and active access to the ballot box, the fundamental right that is preservative of all other rights.” 

LDF continues to encourage community leaders to actively engage in the legislative process by contacting their representatives and urging them to support legislation like the VRAA. We also continue to ask communities to be our eyes and ears on the ground and report potentially discriminatory voting changes at vote@naacpldf.org. We will continue to track and monitor states’ responses to the Shelby County decision and challenge discriminatory voting changes in the decision’s wake.

Despite the skepticism of some political observers, who wrongly predicted that Congress would be both unwilling and unable to respond to the Shelby County decision, the introduction of legislation today demonstrates that congressional leadership is working to safeguard the political process and protect everyone’s right to vote.

Read the proposed legislation here.  A summary description of the sections of the bill can be read here.