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Leading Justice Dept official presses Congress on voting rights

When it comes to voting rights protections, the Justice Department isn't exactly being subtle in its pleas to Congress. Will lawmakers listen?

Let no one say the Justice Department is indifferent to the future of Americans' voting rights. Two weeks ago, on the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act becoming law, Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, urging lawmakers to restore voting rights protections in the wake of Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices gutting the historic legal breakthrough.

Yesterday, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke offered congressional testimony pushing the same message, while also submitting a 20-page document to underscore the seriousness of the issue. TPM reported that "the thesis of her remarks was clear: imploring Congress to pass legislation and patch the holes gouged into the law by a court hostile to voting rights."

"Without congressional action, the upcoming redistricting cycle will be the first without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act," Clarke wrote. "Without preclearance, the Department will not have access to maps and other redistricting-related information from many jurisdictions where there is reason for concern, even though this kind of information is necessary to assess where voting rights are being restricted or inform how the Department directs its limited enforcement resources."

As TPM's report added, Clark also "highlighted the newfound difficulty of challenging discriminatory maps and voting practices without the Section 5 review process the Supreme Court effectively killed in Shelby."

"On behalf of the attorney general, we ask Congress to pass appropriate legislation that will restore and improve the Voting Rights Act, enhancing the [Justice] Department's ability to protect the right to vote in the 21st century and beyond," the assistant attorney general concluded.

Her testimony comes on the heels of a plea from the Washington Post's editorial board, published over the weekend, for congressional Democrats to act as quickly as possible to bolster voting rights. "U.S. democracy is in danger," the board wrote. "There is no more urgent priority."

The editors added, "If Republicans blocked even such modest reforms to ensure that all Americans can vote and that vote counting is impartial, Democrats would have to consider reforming the Senate's filibuster rule."

Most lawmakers are away from Capitol Hill for their August break, but there's evidence to suggest this remains a top priority for the Democratic majority. As we discussed last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to make an as-yet-undefined voting rights bill the first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns to work next month.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-led House is planning to curtail its summer break and return to work next week. According to a message House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sent to members, among the key priorities the chamber will take up with their added time is voting rights.