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Rabbi Saperstein: "The bipartisan introduction of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 represents a significant step in protecting voting rights for all, and will address the threat to voting rights posed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder."
WASHINGTON, January 16, 2014 – In response to yesterday’s introduction of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:
The bipartisan introduction of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 represents a significant step in protecting voting rights for all, and will address the threat to voting rights posed by the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby v. Holder. We commend Senator Leahy, Representatives Sensenbrenner and Conyers and the bill's other bipartisan sponsors for introducing the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, and urge Congress to swiftly pass it.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act, a law that was drafted in part in the RAC’s conference room in the 1960s. The right to vote is fundamental to American democracy. The Reform Jewish movement, long believing that the right to vote is fundamental to American democracy, has for the past century strongly supported legislation that protects the rights of all citizens to be free of discrimination in their efforts to exercise the right to vote.
In the aftermath of the Court’s misguided decision, many states previously covered by the invalidated "preclearance" formula have tested the extent to which they can legally limit citizens' access to the ballot box, by introducing, and in some cases passing, restrictive voting laws. These laws often have discriminatory effects on racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and students. Yet the Supreme Court's Shelby decision left the door open for Congress to update the preclearance formula. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would ensure that appropriate jurisdictions are covered by preclearance, while simultaneously strengthening other provisions of the Voting Rights Act and increasing transparency in election administration. We also hope that Congress will explore strengthening some of the provisions without diluting bipartisan support.
Jewish tradition teaches us that the selection of leaders is not a privilege but a collective responsibility. The Sage Hillel taught, "Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirkei Avot2:4). Rabbi Yitzchak taught that "a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted" (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 55a). In keeping with the insight of these teachings, we have long felt that it is the duty of all who cherish democracy to ensure that all eligible citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.
We urge Congress to pass swiftly the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 to help protect voting rights for all Americans.