Skip to content

Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Protecting Voting Rights

The hearing follows the reintroduction of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “The Right Side of History: Protecting Voting Rights in America.”  The hearing will feature testimony from two panels: a member panel featuring U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), as well as an expert panel featuring voting rights advocates and litigators.

The hearing follows reintroduction of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would update and restore critical safeguards of the original Voting Rights Act.

Key Quotes:

“Last week, we commemorated the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.  On that infamous day in 1965, 600 Americans, led by a young John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams, were met by police wielding billy clubs, bullwhips, and tear gas as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to protest the disenfranchisement of Black Americans.  Just months later, Congress finally passed legislation to protect every American’s right to vote.  The Voting Rights Act, or VRA, passed with 77 votes in the Senate, an overwhelming bipartisan majority.  When the VRA was last reauthorized in 2006, not one Senator, Democratic or Republican, voted against the bill.”

“Next year will mark 60 years since Bloody Sunday and passage of the Voting Rights Act.  But thanks to a series of misguided Supreme Court decisions, there has been a significant deterioration of the fundamental right to vote.”

“Many Americans fear that this attack on voting rights is part of a coordinated assault on our fundamental rights and institutions, as government officials, including the former President of the United States, try to overturn an election and sow doubt about its integrity.  We can restore confidence in our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can vote without fear of disenfranchisement.  Congress can do just that by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the VRA.”

“Some have suggested we don’t need this law, pointing to record-breaking voter turnout in the 2020 election.  But take a close look.  If you do, you’ll see that the racial turnout gap is growing, fueled by these voter suppression efforts.  In 2012, the year before

“Just eight years later, after the end of preclearance, the turnout gap had returned, as Black voter turnout has fallen dramatically compared to White voters in these states.”

“Since the Shelby County decision, states have passed 94 restrictive voting laws—including discriminatory laws that the Department of Justice had previously rejected under preclearance review.  This includes laws that limit the use of mail ballot drop boxes, impose strict ID requirements, cut hours for early voting, and purge voters from registration rolls based on inaccurate databases.” 

“Voters in 27 states will face new restrictions on their right to vote in the presidential election. And without the full force of the VRA, their rights are at risk during one of the most critical elections of our lifetimes.  We must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect what he called, ‘the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument we have in a democratic society.’”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Shelby County decision in 2013—which crippled the federal government’s ability under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent discriminatory changes to voting laws and procedures—states across the country have unleashed a torrent of voter suppression schemes that have systematically disenfranchised American voters, particularly in communities of color.  The Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich delivered yet another blow to the Voting Rights Act, by making it significantly harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits under the landmark law against discriminatory voting laws or procedures.

Cosponsored by 50 U.S. Senators, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is led by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Laphonza Butler (D-CA).

The bill is also endorsed by hundreds of organizations, including the following leading civil rights organizations: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), MALDEF, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, and Demos.

Full bill text can be found here. A section-by-section analysis can be found here.