GOP senators block voting rights bill that would have protected voters of color
Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas joined GOP senators to block a federal voting rights bill that would have restored protections for voters of color and helped override some of Texas’s new elections restrictions and redistricted political maps.
Named after the civil rights icon who died last year, the legislation restores the preclearance process established under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case. Under preclearance, states with a history of racial discrimination are required to obtain federal approval before altering their voting laws or electoral maps.
Prior to that ruling, members of both parties — including Cornyn — overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act as recently as 2006. But in the last year, Republicans have put up nearly uniform opposition to rewrite the preclearance angles of the law in a way that would pass muster with the Supreme Court.
“Those states and localities with that history would be subject to the preclearance regime under the new formula set up under the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and Texas is very likely to be covered by that preclearance regime because of its persistent and recent history of voting, of policies that have been found to discriminate in voting,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel for the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program.
The bill also could have made Texas’ recently redistricted political maps subject to preapproval from the federal government. Historically, Texas' redistricting process has come under heavy scrutiny for discriminating against people of color and has been the subject of extensive litigation. Even before Texas lawmakers voted on the final congressional districts, Hispanic and Latino groups and voters filed a lawsuit claiming the state’s latest maps are discriminatory by failing to create districts where voters of color have an opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
Texas state Rep. Chris Turner and several members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus joined U.S. Reps. Al Green, Veronica Escobar, Marc Veasey and Lloyd Doggett for a virtual press conference last month urging Senate Republicans to allow the federal voting rights legislation to pass.
“Year after year in Texas, our statehouse colleagues and other leaders in Texas have told Republicans don't mess with Texas voters, but they won't stop messing and trying to deny the vote,” Doggett told reporters.
With federal voting rights legislation in the Senate failing again this year, lawmakers are facing renewed calls to allow an exception to the filibuster for voting rights bills. However, party leaders will need to win over moderate Democratic caucus members Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have been reluctant to change the procedural rule.
“We have to make an exception for the future of democracy,” Doggett said last month.