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Sign this petition to tell Congress: It’s time for a #VRA4Today

It’s been more than one year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and now – all around the country – states and localities are making changes that will discriminate against voters based solely on the color of their skin or the language they speak. Voters will feel the impact of these changes this November.

Congress can help by passing the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act – or VRAA – to restore the VRA and provide modern, nationwide protections against racial discrimination in voting.

The Senate has held one hearing on the VRAA since its introduction in January, but the House has failed to act. Inaction, however, is not an option. Sign this petition to make sure your member of Congress knows you support voting rights, and that every day they fail to act gives a free pass to voting discrimination.

House Republican Conference Chair Leaves Washington, but Can’t Run from Voting Rights

Pressure to Protect Voters Ramps Up During Recess

It’s been nearly eight months since the introduction of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a bipartisan bill that would restore protections for voters from racial discrimination. Now House Republicans are getting pressured to take action and move the bill while they are home for August.

Take Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, chair of the House Republican Conference and a member of Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team, who felt the pressure from her constituents on voting rights and now should act.

Twice last week at separate town hall meetings, McMorris Rodgers was asked about her support for the VRAA, which was introduced in response to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated important protections in the Voting Rights Act. The first time, the question seemed to catch her off guard, but by the second time, she acknowledged that voting was fundamental and needed to be fair. Now what is the House Republican conference chair going to do when she’s back in DC?

Watch her full responses:

(Clip 1 — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVeQ-k2Aezo)

(Clip 2 — http://dl2.newmediamill.net/media/lccr/CathyMcMorrisRodgersColfax.m4v)

When she was first asked by a local League of Women Voters president, McMorris Rodgers said: “Quite honestly, the Judiciary Committee has a number of priority issues that they’ve been taking on and I think they’re just trying to decide from week to week what is most important.” But talking about how busy congressional committees are is a hard sell given that the current Congress is on track to be the least productive in modern history. And unlike its Senate counterpart, the House Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the VRAA.

She then said “I’ll have to go back and see if there’s a plan to move it sometime soon. I honestly haven’t asked that question recently to know what the status of moving it in the House is.”

Asked at another town hall a few days later by another LWV leader about her support for the VRAA, McMorris Rodgers acknowledged the VRAA has “broad bipartisan support” but committed only to “looking at it.”

She said: “I need to sit down and really look at what has been negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats on this and getting it reauthorized. There are some people that I greatly respect that have been leading on this effort. And I would like to think that I would ultimately be supportive but I’m not quite ready to commit today. But what I can do is commit to looking at it and getting you an answer.”

As a House leader, McMorris Rodgers – who voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006 for 25 more years – should be instrumental in re-establishing essential protections for voters. Along with a status update, she should press House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., to move the VRAA forward with a hearing and a mark-up when Congress returns to Washington in September.

Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer and ahead of the first major election since the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote for all Americans is particularly critical – especially given recent reports documenting persistent voting discrimination. Our democracy deserves more than indifference when it comes to the right to vote.

We hope McMorris Rodgers is sincere in saying she’ll get up to speed on the VRAA, and that she does end up supporting and pushing forward these needed protections for voters.

Report: Minority Voters Vulnerable Ahead of Midterm Elections

Forty-nine years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR) on August 6 released a report documenting persistent voting discrimination in the United States, finding that states previously subject to Section 5 preclearance under the VRA (particularly Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia) continue to be the worst offenders.PMRcover

“Protecting Minority Voters: Our Work is Not Done” objects to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which claimed that greater minority voter participation meant strong voting protections were no longer necessary. According to the report, there were about 332 lawsuits and denials of Section 5 preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice between 1995-2014, and another 10 non-litigation settlements. These successful voting rights challenges illustrate the ongoing problem of voting discrimination and the need for a revitalized VRA.

Some other key findings in the report include:

  • Voting discrimination takes a variety of forms. Discriminatory redistricting plans and at-large elections continue to prompt the most successful lawsuits under Section 2 of the VRA. However, there were also 48 successful lawsuits and 10 non-litigation settlements relating to language translation and assistance.
  • The federal observer program provided an important deterrence against voter discrimination with 10,702 observers deployed from 1995-2012. As a result of the Shelby County decision, the DOJ is no longer deploying federal observers to the formerly covered states.

Other recent publications documenting voting discrimination include:

Briefing Underscores Need to Combat Modern Voting Discrimination

On Tuesday afternoon, a briefing in the U.S. Capitol examined modern voting discrimination in the United States and the urgent need for passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). The VRAA is bicameral legislation introduced in January to update and modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and to protect voters from the discrimination that persists nearly 50 years after it was originally passed.

It has been more than a year since the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, invalidated a key section of the VRA that provided extra scrutiny to places with a history and contemporary record of restricting access to the ballot based on race.

The panel included introductory remarks from Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and was moderated by Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at The Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C., office. The panel included Deborah Vagins of the American Civil Liberties Union, Tanya Clay House of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Erin Hustings of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

Austin-Hillery guided an open conversation about voting discrimination still prevalent today and how the VRAA would help to combat it. As she said, “It is what you do at the ballot box that speaks most loudly about how you feel.” While Hustings and Clay House spoke specifically to current examples of voting discrimination – including what the Lawyers’ Committee found in its series of nationwide hearings earlier this year – Vagins outlined the provisions of the VRAA, emphasizing that it is geographically neutral and constantly updating itself – adjustments created to respond directly to the Shelby ruling. “When all these provisions operate together,” Vagins said, “we would have a robust way to protect our citizens.”

Bend the Arc Commemorates Slain Civil Rights Workers, Calls for Passage of VRAA

A day before the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice joined with the Andrew Goodman Foundation to remember three voting rights advocates murdered 50 years ago – during Freedom Summer – and to advocate for voting rights nationwide.

The three activists – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner – were working to register black voters when they were kidnapped and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi. The murders incited a national outcry and helped move Congress to pass the VRA a year later in 1965.

In memory of the anniversary, a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol – featuring David Goodman, Andrew’s brother and president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc, and Rep. John Lewis – honored the activists and called on Congress to advance the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

The organizations also delivered yartzeit candles, which symbolize the anniversary of a loved one’s passing in Judaism, to each Congressional office. And to complete their day of action, Bend the Arc created a visual memorial to Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner using 3,000 candles to spell “So All Can Vote” in front of the Lincoln Memorial. That visual memorial is captured in the video below.

Senate Hearing Examines Need to Address Current Racial Discrimination in Voting

One year after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on proposed legislation to restore critical protections. That legislation – the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (S. 1945) – was introduced in the Senate in January by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D. Vt.

And though a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced companion legislation in the House, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., still hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the bill. Goodlatte has said he isn’t sure new legislation is needed.

That notion has been dispelled in a slew of recent reports documenting voting rights violations, including ones from a coalition of Latino groups and the Brennan Center for Justice. The Leadership Conference’s report, “The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination,” points to 148 voting rights violations recorded across 29 states between 2000 and June 2013. And since Shelby, the report highlights 10 violations in seven states that have raised concerns about voting discrimination.

That voting discrimination still exists, as these reports show, was not contested during Wednesday’s hearing. The application of the bill, though, was at issue, leading to Sens. John Cornyn, R. Texas, and Al Franken, D. Minn., to disagree about whether or not the bill singles out certain states. The VRAA would immediately apply to four states – Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi – but acts on a rolling basis to remedy current voting discrimination as it occurs.

“If Texas happens to be one of those states [that is immediately covered], that is because Texas violated the law – not because the United States Congress is targeting Texas,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a hearing witness.

Following the hearing, members of Congress and civil rights leaders rallied outside the U.S. Capitol to call for movement on the VRAA. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Congress shouldn’t leave for the Fourth of July recess – nor should they be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act’s passage – without first passing the VRAA.

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Rep. Judy Chu, D. Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, warned that failure to pass the VRAA would allow the United States to step back into a time of Jim Crow and Chinese exclusion, while Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D. Texas, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said that access to the voting booth is under attack despite not being a partisan issue.

All speakers at the rally made one message clear: our democracy is at stake without these protections, and moving the VRAA forward now is vitally important.

In a statement on Wednesday, Goodlatte said he would carefully consider proposals that address voting rights – a sentiment he’s expressed before. And as he stalls the VRAA, more than 120 House Democrats signed on to the bill Wednesday.

Advocates to Hold Rally for Voting Rights Following VRAA Senate Hearing

Rally-Flyer-thumbnailToday at 12:30 p.m. voting rights and civil rights advocates will hold a rally on Capitol Hill urging the House of Representatives to take up a bipartisan bill to update and modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The rally will take place right after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ongoing racial discrimination in voting and the need for the new legislation.

The hearing and rally are being held on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which invalidated a key provision of the VRA and took away one of our most effective tools for addressing voting discrimination. On January 16, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, R. Wisc., John Conyers, D. Mich., Steve Chabot, R. Ohio, John Lewis, D. Ga., Spencer Bachus, R. Ala., Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D. Texas., introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a modern, flexible, and forward-looking set of protections that work together to ensure an effective response to racial discrimination in voting in every part of the country. Senator Patrick Leahy, D. Vt. Introduced the VRAA in the Senate.

While the Senate has begun work on the VRAA, the House has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill or a markup of the bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

If you’re in Washington, D.C. today, come to the hearing in Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and then attend the rally at 12:30 p.m. on the House side of the U.S. Capitol Grounds near the House Triangle. In the case of rain, the rally will be held in Room 215 of the House Visitor Center).

Report Details Almost 150 Violations against Minority Voters, Shows Persistent Modern-Day Discrimination across the Country

One year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder,a new report from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights explains how racial discrimination in voting – an issue that is not limited to one region of the country – remains a significant problem in our democracy.

Titled “The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination: A Study of Recent Voting Rights Violations by State,” the report points to specific objections to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and other VRA objections by state from 2000-June 2013, in addition to examples of post-Shelby voting changes of concern.

Specifically, there have been 148 voting rights violations recorded across 29 states between 2000 and June 2013. Thirty of those violations occurred in Texas. Since Shelby, the report highlights 10 violations in seven states that have raised concerns about voting discrimination.

mapVRA4Today

 

Many of the violations detailed in the report were also included in a document sent to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., and to members of the House Judiciary Committee in response to a request for documentation about the reality of ongoing discrimination against minority voters. Though a hearing has been scheduled in the Senate, the House has yet to schedule one.

To read the full report, please click here.

 

Press Conference on 6/18: Leading Up to Shelby Decision Anniversary, Unity Between Civil Rights Groups and Tri-Caucus Continues on Voting Rights

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, June 18 at 1:30 p.m. EDT, Tri-Caucus members and civil rights leaders will host a press conference on the Hill reaffirming their unified support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA).

This press conference kicks off the most important week in voting rights, with the approaching one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder and corresponding first Senate hearing on June 25 and the upcoming 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act. At the press conference, prominent figures in voting rights today will stand together to discuss why this is the critical time for action, and call on the House to advance the VRAA now to protect voters before they go to the polls in November.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 18, 1:30 p.m.

WHO:

  • Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
  • Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC)
  • Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Lorraine Miller, interim president and CEO of the NAACP
  • Mee Moua, president and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
  • Brent Wilkes, executive director of LULAC
  • Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters

WHAT: Press conference to call for congressional action on the Voting Rights Amendment Act

WHERE: 2226 Rayburn House Office Building

RSVP: Simpson@civilrights.org or 202.466.2061

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Senate Judiciary Committee Announces VRAA Hearing On Shelby Anniversary

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) on June 25 – the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This will be the first hearing on the VRAA since the bipartisan legislation was introduced in January in both the House and the Senate.

“It is time for Congress to act,” said Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-VT), who introduced the VRAA in the Senate. “Just as Congress came together 50 years ago to enact the Civil Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans should work together now to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which has always been bipartisan.”

The VRAA seeks to repair the damage done to the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the Shelby decision. In Shelby, a divided court struck down a key provision of the VRA as out-of-date but said that Congress could act to update and modernize the law.

The hearing, “The Voting Rights Amendment Act, S.1945:  Updating the Voting Rights Act in Response to Shelby County v. Holder,” will be held at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The House has yet to hold a hearing on the VRAA.