House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., on Tuesday.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The voting bill is part of a broader goal of congressional Democrats to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight back against restrictive voting laws passed in GOP-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, the bill faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

This week, the House returned from its recess to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the trillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with a recent history of discrimination to receive federal “preclearance” to make changes to their voting laws, which directly addresses the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. That ruling gutted the preclearance system of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with a history of racial discrimination.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

On the House floor, shortly before its passage, Pelosi said the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

However, this is not the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

That bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with a government agency, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing America’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June and the vote to advance an amended version of the “For The People Act” split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 needed. All Democrats voted to begin debate and Republicans unanimously voting to block the bill.

The passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House. Members depart Washington and won’t return until September 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.