KEY VOTE: “NO” on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4)

KEY VOTE: House · Aug 20, 2021

Heritage Action opposes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

This week, the House will be voting on H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, yet another blatant effort by liberals to give left-wing activists new powers to undermine the integrity of our election laws. With H.R. 4, liberals will use the power of the federal government to overturn voter ID laws and prevent states from ensuring the integrity of their own elections. Essentially, the proposal hijacks the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by replacing the worthwhile goal of ending racial discrimination with the completely partisan goal of advancing liberal political candidates.

One of the most troubling aspects of H.R. 4 is that it would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively struck down the outdated coverage formulas under Section 4 of the VRA and, consequently, also gutted much of Section 5. Specifically, H.R. 4 reestablishes coverage formulas for states and jurisdictions allegedly engaging in discriminatory voting behavior. The new coverage formulas would place jurisdictions under Justice Department preclearance if the agency determines that 15 “vot­ing rights violations” occurred during the “previous 25 calendar years” by local jurisdictions or that 10 “voting rights violations” occurred during the “previous 25 calendar years” if one of those violations was by the state government. The purported violations would include such reasonable things as voter ID laws. Placing states under a preclearance requirement would require states to get pre-approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ) before changing any state voting law.

The Supreme Court’s ruling was constitutionally justified, and there is no reason to infringe upon states’ rights by reimposing Section 5 preclearance based on a new coverage formula that's even more troublesome than the original. As The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Legal Fellow Hans von Spakovsky explains:

The Supreme Court ruled that Section 5 was unconstitutional because it had not been updated in 2006 to reflect modern conditions. The Su­preme Court said, “History did not end in 1965, . . . yet the coverage formula that Congress reauthorized in 2006 . . . kept the focus on decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems, rather than current data reflecting current needs”
According to the Supreme Court in Shelby County, because Section 5 blatantly invades state sovereignty over elections, Congress would, in order to justify its continuation, have to show that there were still “blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees,” “voting discrimination on a pervasive scale,” or “flagrant” or “rampant” voting discrimination. None of that was present in 2013 when the case was before the Supreme Court, and there is no evidence of such behavior today, either.

Furthermore, the bill goes far beyond simply reimplementing Sections 4 and 5 of the original Voting Rights Act in a number of ways:

  • Massively expands the criteria for determining discrimination under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in order to overturn the recent decision by the Supreme Court in the Brnovich vs. Democratic National Committee case

  • It would expand the definition of voting rights violations to include not just intentional discrimination but also instances of disparate impact.

  • Creates a new legal standard for injunctive relief in which a plaintiff needs only to “raise a serious question” instead of providing actual evidence about whether the challenged voting change violated the VRA or the Consti­tution.

  • Restricts the ability of courts of appeal, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to issue stays of such injunctions.

In sum, the bill would allow left-wing activists to use the courts and Department of Justice to block any state or local jurisdiction from implementing voting requirements and practices to ensure election integrity. It would also give these bodies the ability to interfere in unfavorable political precincts and eventually federalize state and local election systems. The bill is clearly unconstitutional and breaks from the American principles of federalism and separation of powers.

Heritage Action opposes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.