Durbin Questions Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke On Restoring The Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke during a hearing entitled “Protecting a Precious, Almost Sacred Right: The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.” The hearing addressed the urgent need to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act

“Texas is the latest legislature this year to attack the right to vote based on the lie of widespread voter fraud,” Durbin said. “The Texas Attorney General spent 22,000 hours looking for evidence of fraud…what they found to try and justify S.B. 1 was the following: only 16 potential cases of fraud out of 17 million registered voters…we know discrimination based on voting throughout our history is a horrible chapter – more than one chapter – when it comes to civil rights and after the Civil War. The question today is, does it take on a different context in light of the Big Lie?”

Clarke answered by stating the Department of Justice (DOJ) believes elections should be open, fair, and free from fraud. She said instances of fraud are exceedingly rare, but voting discrimination is widespread. Clarke also said that DOJ agrees that restoring the preclearance provision is necessary to ensure elections are free, open, and fair across the country.

“A three judge panel in 2016 examining a 2013 North Carolina voting law that required strict voter ID and limited early voting wrote, ‘the law targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.’ This was no coincidence, the court found, noting that before enacting the law, the legislature requested data on the use by race of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans,” Durbin said. “Is there evidence now of what we’re seeing in the states of recurrence of this theme?”

Clarke said in DOJ’s view, voting discrimination is a current day problem. Clarke noted that without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Department has difficulty blocking laws that are discriminatory and safeguarding the right to vote in America.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee 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 tens of thousands of American voters.  The Supreme Court’s recent Brnovich decision 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.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is endorsed by the following leading civil rights organizations: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.