Republicans Are Expected to Block a Second Voting Rights Bill in the Senate
Democrats hope that a filibuster of a measure named for former Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon, will help build momentum for a change in Senate rules.,
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are expected on Wednesday to block legislation to restore parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings, making it the second major voting bill to be derailed by a G.O.P. filibuster in the past two weeks.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the civil rights activist and congressman who died last year, is aimed at reinvigorating voting protections against discrimination at the ballot box that have been struck down by the Supreme Court.
A major goal of the bill is to again require jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to win prior approval — or “preclearance” — from the Justice Department or federal courts in Washington before changing voting rules, a requirement that the Supreme Court invalidated in its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. It also seeks to bolster safeguards against discriminatory election practices that were limited this year by the court’s ruling in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.
“We wouldn’t be dealing with some of these terrible, draconian measures in Georgia right now if preclearance were on the books,” said Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, whose home state has seen new voting restrictions imposed by Republicans after his victory in Georgia in January and President Biden’s win in November. “And so, let’s get this done.”
Considered the crown jewel of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act traditionally enjoyed broad bipartisan support after its enactment in 1965 and was renewed under a succession of Republican presidents. But just one Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has announced that she will join all 50 Democrats in voting to open debate on a compromise measure that also has the support of Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who helped negotiate the new version.
It would take 60 votes — a minimum of 10 Republican votes — to overcome the filibuster and take up the bill.
“Voting rights are fundamental to our democracy and how we protect them defines us as a nation,” Ms. Murkowski said in a statement. “I have supported this particular legislation in previous Congresses and continued to work with my colleagues on it because it provides a framework through which legitimate voting rights issues can be tackled.”
The measure incorporates provisions intended to improve ballot access for Native Americans, an important constituency of Ms. Murkowski’s.
The John Lewis measure is distinct from an earlier voting rights measure, the Freedom to Vote Act, which Republicans have thrice thwarted through filibusters, most recently in October. That measure sets new voting standards meant to counter Republican-led efforts around the country to impose voting restrictions that Democrats regard as efforts to limit voting in minority communities. No Republican supported bringing that measure to the floor.
“The Freedom to Vote Act puts the fire out in this 911 state of emergency in our democracy,” Mr. Warnock said. “The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is about building a fire station for future fires.”
Top Republicans, though, portray both measures as unnecessary and say they represent an effort by Democrats in Washington to set election parameters to their advantage. They argue that the Supreme Court eliminated only parts of the Voting Rights Act that it considered outdated, and note that governments that discriminate can still be pursued by the Justice Department.
“Look, the voting rights law is intact,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, told reporters last month. “The Supreme Court did not strike down the Voting Rights Act. It is against the law to discriminate against Americans on the basis of race. It has been since the Voting Rights Act in 1965.”
Democrats were well aware that they were likely to again hit a Republican wall when it comes to voting rights. But part of their calculation has been to demonstrate to Mr. Manchin, who has been deeply involved in crafting both measures, that Republicans are determined to obstruct the bills, making a change in filibuster rules the only route to enacting the measures he helped author. Mr. Manchin has expressed deep reservations about tinkering with the filibuster, which he says fosters bipartisanship.
Top Democrats say they cannot stand by and let minority Republicans shelve measures that Democrats see as fundamental to protecting the right to vote.
“At some point, our democracy has to move along,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairman of the Rules Committee. “And that’s the discussion we’ll be having.”