Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on “Oversight of the Voting Rights Act: A Continuing Record of Discrimination:”
“The purpose of today’s hearing is to continue the Subcommittee’s oversight of the Voting Rights Act, in part by revisiting the extensive record we compiled during the 116th Congress documenting voting barriers in various jurisdictions. Indeed, since the Subcommittee’s hearings last Congress, states have only intensified their efforts to enact laws that suppress minority voting rights.
“To begin with, it is important to reflect on the origins of the Voting Rights Act as we consider how to amend the Act to address the current barriers to voting faced by too many Americans today.
“In response to public pressure from the Civil Rights Movement, the federal government took renewed interest in protecting minority voters. Starting in the late 1950’s, the federal government engaged states and localities with a history of discrimination in a cat-and-mouse chase over their attempts to rob racial minorities of meaningful participation in the democratic process.
“Every time a court struck down a jurisdiction’s discriminatory voting measure as a result of a successful legal challenge, that jurisdiction would simply implement another way to discriminate against minority voters in response. Meanwhile, as a case slowly worked its way through the courts, racial minorities would continue to be denied the constitutional right to vote.
“Congress sought to put an end to this unending cycle—in which minority voting rights were the casualty—by passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“The VRA proved a potent remedy for the most egregious forms of overt voter discrimination, and the voting rights landscape changed significantly following its enactment. Under the VRA’s section 5 preclearance regime, states and localities with a history of discrimination against racial and ethnic minority voters had to submit changes to their voting laws to the Justice Department, or to a federal court, for approval prior to taking effect.
“While preclearance did not fully eliminate state attempts to discriminate against minority voters, it did end the cat-and-mouse chase, and minority voter registration and political participation increased markedly compared to its previously abysmal levels.
“In the decades following its initial passage, Congress reauthorized and amended the VRA several times, on a bipartisan basis, to keep pace with states and localities that still stubbornly refused to stop discriminating against their minority citizens.
“In 2013, however, the Supreme Court effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act’s most important enforcement mechanism—its Section 5 preclearance provision—in its disastrous ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. In that decision, the Court struck down the formula for determining which states and localities are subject to preclearance, effectively rendering the preclearance provision null and void.
“In her dissent, the late Justice Ginsburg compared ‘throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes’ to ‘throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.’
“Last Congress, we heard testimony from dozens of witnesses about examples of voter discrimination post-Shelby County that illustrated this point.
“They testified that at least 23 states had enacted restrictive voter laws since the Shelby County decision, including strict voter ID laws; barriers to voter registration, such as requiring proof of citizenship documents, allowing challenges of voters on the voter rolls, and unfairly purging voters from the voter rolls; reductions in early voting; and the moving or elimination of polling places.
“In fact, within just 24 hours of the Shelby County decision, both Texas’ Attorney General and North Carolina’s General Assembly announced that they would reinstitute draconian voter ID laws. Federal courts later found that both laws were intentionally racially discriminatory.
“Unfortunately, these were just two of the most egregious examples of state and local efforts to discriminate against minority voters from the past eight years. Indeed, since this Subcommittee began examining these issues last Congress, these efforts have only intensified.
“As of May 24, the non-partisan organization Voting Rights Lab is tracking 410 anti-voter bills at various stages of the enactment process. Dozens of bills that would curb minority voting rights have actively been moving through state legislatures and six states have already enacted restrictive voting laws: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Utah.
“These recent bills have been justified under the false pretense of addressing the baseless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election that have been promoted by former President Trump and his allies.
“Let me be clear: There is absolutely no evidence that significant voter fraud or voting irregularities in any way affected the outcome of the 2020 election. And it is clear that these laws will suppress minority voters.
“Prior to Shelby County, the Voting Rights Act had been an unqualified success in helping to reduce discriminatory barriers to voting and expanding electoral opportunities for people of color to federal, state, and local offices. While it continues to play an important role in remedying discriminatory barriers to voting, the VRA remains weakened without an effective preclearance provision.
“Too many Americans are still denied the right to vote because of their race, ethnicity, or language minority status. Without the full protection of the VRA, the right to vote remains under considerable threat.
“I look forward to hearing from the excellent witnesses participating in today’s panel on how we can best strengthen the VRA, and I yield back the balance of my time.”
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