Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On The Introduction Of The John Lewis Voting Advancement Act

October 5, 2021

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor on the introduction of the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act. This legislation would restore critical safeguards of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and further protect the fundamental right of Americans to participate in democracy. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

First let me thank my friend, our Chairman of the Judiciary, Senator Leahy, not only for introducing this legislation, but for his dedication to voting rights over the many decades that he has served in this body.

Few have done more to push voting rights, to make sure people have the right to vote without some of the barriers that have always been placed in the way by people who want to discriminate against people—particularly people of color—when it comes to voting. So I thank him.

The story of American Democracy is a messy tale of starts and stops. For over 240 years, our march to establish the United States as a full democracy has always seemed to involve two steps forward, one step back.

Today I am proud to join my colleagues Senators Leahy and Durbin as they lead this chamber in another bold step forward by introducing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a long-overdue update to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

No piece of legislation has done more to protect the franchise than the Voting Rights Act of the 60s. Its critical preclearance provision compelled jurisdictions with recent histories of discrimination to secure federal approval before amending their election laws.

For decades, the Senate reauthorized the VRA’s preclearance provisions with bipartisan votes, because both parties understood that this powerful federal tool made our democracy stronger.

Sadly, in 2013 a conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted the VRA’s preclearance and cleared the way for some of the most repressive voter suppression laws we have seen in generations.

For those Supreme Court justices who said this is not necessary, I think they should look at what happened since preclearance was eliminated. It's just awful, and it was one of the lowest moments of the Supreme Court in recent memory, the Shelby decision.

And now because of that Shelby decision, in 2021, 19 statesjust in this year, 2021have enacted 33 laws that will limit Americans’ access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. What we are seeing across the states today is nothing short of Jim Crow in the 21st century, aided and abetted and allowed by the Shelby decision, which so tied the hands of the Justice Department when discriminatory legislation was being enacted at the state level.

The Senate must fight back. We must restore the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act and retailor it to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

That is what the John Lewis Voting Rights Act Advancement will do. As an important complement to the Freedom to Vote Act, it will reestablish the VRA’s preclearance coverage formula—based on an updated and robust catalogue of modern-day voter suppression laws—while adopting new provisions to address the next generation of suppressive voting.

This new bill also responds to the Court’s troubling ruling in Brnovich from earlier this year, which further, even further, weakened the VRA’s protections against state practices that hinder minorities seeking to vote.

We must be brutally honest, this country has to look itself in the mirror: racial barriers to the ballot are regrettably part of our past, present and now with some of these decisions, our future. When the nation was founded, you had to be a white, male, Protestant, property-owner in many of the states to vote.

Today we have come a long way in our struggle to live up to our country’s founding promise, and this bill takes the next step by restoring the proper role of the federal government to protect Americans’ constitutional right to participate in our democracy.

As Senator Warnock has so eloquently stated, we must put out the fire that’s presently engulfing our democracy – that is what the Freedom to Vote Act will do.

We must build a state of the art fire department to prevent future fires – that is what the reforms of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will do.

This is a good bill. This is an urgent bill. And as Majority leader it is my intention to hold a vote on this legislation in the near future. I am proud to designate this as S.4, to mark its critical restoration of the Section IV preclearance formula.

We hope that all of our colleagues will join us in good faith in advancing solutions to ensure all Americans have their voice heard in their democracy.

If some of our colleagues on the other side have different ideas how to protect free and fair elections, we urge them to put them forward.

But we will not be deterred just because some of our colleagues choose to stand silent with their arms crossed, content to play politics with the health of our Republic.

On this issue, the Senate must act, and we will act.

I want to thank again my colleagues Senators Leahy and Durbin for their diligence and leadership on this important piece of legislation, and for all they do to make sure this chamber always works to strengthen our precious democracy. 

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