Philadelphia, PA- With voting rights under attack across the country, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today called for legislation that would restore gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act. Since the 2010 election, new voting restrictions have been added in 22 states, and the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down one of the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Casey called on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure that the right to vote receives protection under federal and state statutes.
“The right to vote has been called the most precious of our rights, the ‘primary right by which all other rights are protected,’ however, over the past few years, legislation and court decisions at both state and federal levels have been slowly chipping away at this right,” said Senator Casey. “I am calling on Congress to act quickly to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act and put in place the necessary protections to guarantee all citizens the right to vote, regardless of race, national origin or language. When Congress reconvenes I will be looking at ways Congress can underscore and protect American’s most fundamental right, the right to vote.”
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) contained the formula for determining which jurisdictions were subject to “preclearance” under Section 5 of the VRA, meaning that any voting rights changes had to be reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice before taking effect. While the Court determined that the formula was unconstitutional because it was based on data from 1964-1972 and was no longer based on current needs, the Court left Section 5 ineffective but intact, allowing Congress the opportunity to redraft the coverage formula based on current needs.
Voting Rights Amendment Act Major Provisions
The Voting Rights Amendment Act would amend the Voting Rights Act by allowing courts to “bail-in” (require preclearance for voting changes in) a State or political subdivision based violations of the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments, federal voting rights law, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
- States can be bailed in if there are five or more violations over the preceding fifteen years, at least one of which must be a State-wide violation.
- Political subdivisions can be bailed in if there are three or more violations in the preceding fifteen years, or if there is one violation coupled with “persistent and extremely low minority voter turnout.”
- States or political subdivision will continue to be covered for 10 years starting on the January 1 of the year of the most recent voting rights violation, unless the state or subdivision obtains a “bail-out”
- Voting rights violations include a final judgment in violation of the Constitution or Section 2 of the VRA, failure or denial of preclearance by a court, or failure or denial of preclearance by the Attorney General.
- States and political subdivisions (including those in covered States) would still be able to “bail out” of coverage as currently permitted by the VRA if they have no violations.
- Section 3(c), which allows a federal court to bail-in jurisdictions found to have intentionally discriminated in violation of the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment, would be expanded to allow bail-in based on violation of federal voting laws and discriminatory effect, rather than only where the plaintiffs can show intentional discrimination
Senator Casey has been outspoken in his opposition to Pennsylvania’s efforts to enact a voter ID law (link, link). He has previously called on Senate leaders to expedite consideration of legislation that would reinstate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (link). Casey also has been opposed to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which would increase the power of corporate and special interests in elections (link).