Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R. Alaska, on Thursday announced her support for the Voting Rights Advancement Act, making her the first Republican in the Senate to cosponsor legislation to help restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013.
“Senator Murkowski’s decision to co-sponsor the Voting Rights Advancement Act sends a clear signal to Congress that, as history shows, both parties can work together to restore the VRA,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We applaud Senator Murkowski for championing this effort and encourage her fellow Republicans in the House and Senate to join with her to restore the bipartisan Voting Rights Act.”
The Advancement Act, introduced in June by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D. Vt., and Rep. Terri Sewell, D. Ala., responds to the unique, modern-day challenges of voting discrimination that has evolved in the past 50 years since the VRA was first signed by President Johnson. The bill recognizes that changing demographics require tools that protect voters nationwide – especially voters of color, language minorities, people with disabilities, young people, and seniors. It also requires that jurisdictions make voting changes public and transparent. The bill currently has no Republican cosponsors in the House.
A bill Leahy introduced in January 2014, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, never garnered any Senate Republican support – though it was supported by 11 Republicans in the House, including Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R. Wisc., who introduced the bill and was instrumental in the VRA’s 2006 reauthorization. A version of the bill reintroduced this year currently has 12 Republican cosponsors.
Since Shelby, efforts to restore the VRA in the House have been blocked by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. While Leahy held a hearing on voting rights in the Senate in 2014 when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte hasn’t yet taken that step. Instead, he said as recently as June that restoring voter protections isn’t necessary.
Murkowski’s co-sponsorship comes just over a month after the VRA’s 50th anniversary, and almost six months to the day after Bloody Sunday’s 50th anniversary, when 100 lawmakers gathered in Selma, Ala., to commemorate the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march. Despite celebration of Selma’s foot soldiers, including a Congressional Gold Medal to honor them, Congress has not yet acted to restore the VRA.