Speaker Boehner’s Door Locked to VRA for Today Coalition’s Delivery of 500,000 Petition Signatures

WASHINGTON – Today, a broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and progressive leaders launched the VRA for Today Coalition with a petition signed by more than 500,000 Americans who strongly support restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting all voters from discrimination. Before the announcement, advocates went to Speaker Boehner’s Longworth House Office Building office during normal business hours to deliver the names of the 500,000 petition signers but were met by a locked door.

Click here for video of the event. Click here for more footage. 

Click here for the petition.

With the Supreme Court’s misguided and destructive decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder, voters will head to the polls in November with the weakest protections against voting discrimination in half a century. Yet Congress has failed to act—despite having a bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act drafted and ready to be debated and moved forward.

The half a million Americans and leading organizations involved in the VRA for Today Coalition stand together in an ongoing fight to restore the Voting Rights Act, with support that will only continue to grow after today’s launch.

Below are quotes from the leaders of some organizations involved in the VRA for Today Coalition. To learn more, visit www.VRA4Today.org.

Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

“Today, the Speaker’s office was closed to voting rights. This is symbolic of how House Leadership has ignored voters who are being discriminated against right now. Since the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act was introduced in January, the House has not held a single hearing on the bill. We urge the Speaker and his leadership team to heed the voices of the petition signers and millions of other Americans. We will not tolerate a country that allows voters to be discriminated against based on their race.  We are standing up for the right to vote and calling on Congress to protect voters from discrimination.”

Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office 

“We urge Speaker Boehner to not let this be the first election in America in 50 years without robust protections for voters of color. That would be a shameful legacy as this Congress adjourns. Congress must pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act now.”

Samer Khalaf, President, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

“Racial discrimination in voting is a reality that merits an urgent response. It is time for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act and restore the important voter protections that were crippled by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder last year.

Every day that Congress fails to act, voters are in danger, and so is the most fundamental right in our democracy.  If the right to vote is threatened, the integrity of our entire democracy is also threatened. The time to act is now.  ADC calls on Congress to restore the VRA today.”

Mee Moua, President & Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

“Every day that Congress fails to act to address the Shelby decision, voters are vulnerable to discrimination. This is true especially for Asian Americans, the fastest growing racial group in the U.S. that is also rapidly growing in states and localities historically covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – states such as Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Over half a million people, including many Asian Americans, are demanding that Congress once again provides strong protections against voter discrimination by restoring the Voting Rights Act.  It’s time for Congress to act on the people’s will.”

Hadar Susskind, Director, Bend the Arc Jewish Action 

“American Jews, like many people of faith, believe that America can and should live up to the ideals of fairness, justice, and democracy implicit in its founding. This willful negligence by Congress is an insult to that legacy. Failing to protect the voting rights of millions of Americans is immoral. Bend the Arc members and other Jews across the country have signed this petition to demand that Congress fulfill its obligations and pass the VRAA.”

Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel, Washington, D.C. office of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

“The Voting Rights Act was a promise that no citizen would be denied the right to vote based on race. A generation later, our nation is in danger of reneging on that promise. Today, hundreds of thousands of Americans made clear that Congress must act to restore this key protection before the November election. It’s time to move on this bipartisan bill.”

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org

“The historic onslaught of attacks following the Shelby v. Holder decision in previously covered states demonstrates the clear need for immediate action by Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. With the election in November, politicians need to know that if they want our support, they must protect everyone’s freedom to vote and pass the VRAA.”

Miles Rapoport, President, Common Cause

“The right to vote is the foundation of American democracy. It must be upheld. For nearly 50 years, Americans relied on the Voting Rights Act to safeguard this precious right, particularly in states where voters of color traditionally faced barriers in exercising it. Now that the Supreme Court has tossed aside a critical section of the law, states across the country – not just those previously covered by the Act – are passing laws and adopting policies designed to erect new barriers and shut millions of our citizens out of the political process. In addition to being fundamentally un-American, this systematic exclusion from democratic participation contributes to Washington’s inability to address critical economic, social and environmental issues, among others. We must do better.  With the Voting Rights Amendment Act, drafted to comply with the Court’s mandate and endorsed by Democrats and Republicans alike, we can get back on track.  Common Cause urges Congress to pass this needed law and ensure that every American has fair access to the polls.  It’s the right thing to do.”

Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager, CREDO Action

“Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, Republicans in states around the country have rushed to pass voter suppression laws in an attempt to steal elections. Congress should pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act now to restore one of our best tools for defending the right to vote.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

“Until the Voting Rights Amendment Act is passed and signed, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will continue its forward march toward ensuring that Congress continues its 50-year tradition of protecting the fundamental principle of our democracy.”

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)

“Our democracy thrives when all its citizens are able to participate fully in the nation’s political system. We are proud to sign on to this petition of support and call on Congress to promote policies that make voting and registering to vote more accessible to the nation’s second largest population group and all qualified U.S. citizens.”

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way

“More than half a million people are speaking out today to say that no American should be left unprotected from voting discrimination. It’s time for Congress to listen to those voices and restore the Voting Rights Act. We have to safeguard every person’s right to participate in our democracy. Otherwise, the fundamental promise of ‘one person, one vote’ becomes hollow.”

Mary Kay Henry, President, SEIU

“Every day Congress fails to protect the right to vote, it gives a free pass to voting discrimination. Working people call on Congress to fulfill the promise of equal rights under our Constitution, restore voting rights and strengthen any new voting rights bill so that it protects all voters.”

Today, 9/17: “VRA for Today” Coalition Launch

Featuring Voting Rights Advocates, Members of Congress, and 500,000 Americans

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, September 17, at 2:00 PM, a broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and progressive leaders will join with members of Congress at the House Visitors Center to launch the VRA for Today Coalition. These leaders will join their voices with more than 500,000 Americans who strongly support restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting all voters from discrimination.

With the Supreme Court’s misguided and destructive decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder, voters will head to the polls in November with the weakest protections against voting discrimination in half a century. Yet so far Congress has failed to act—despite having a bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act drafted and ready to be debated and moved forward.

The half a million Americans and leading organizations involved in the VRA for Today Coalition stand together in an ongoing fight to restore the Voting Rights Act, with support that will only continue to grow after tomorrow’s launch. The names of the more than 500,000 Americans calling on Congress to protect voters from discrimination will also be delivered to Speaker Boehner.

WHEN: Wednesday, September 17, at 2:00 p.m.

WHO:

  • Congressman Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip
  • Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
  • Congressman Bobby Scott, D-Virginia
  • Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Civil Rights Task Force Chair
  • Congressman G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina
  • Wade Henderson, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program, People for the American Way (PFAW)
  • Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative office, the ACLU
  • Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action
  • Hilary O. Shelton, Washington bureau director, the NAACP

WHAT: Launch of the VRA for Today Coalition with advocates and members of Congress, supported by more than 500,000 Americans 

WHERE: House Visitors Center – HVC 215

RSVP: Email Simpson@civilrights.org to RSVP

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:

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.

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.