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Following the bipartisan tradition of the Voting Rights Act, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) Thursday to introduce bipartisan legislation to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law.

The legislation supported by a range of civil rights groups, is a bicameral, bipartisan response to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision which struck down a core provision in the Voting Rights Act. That provision determines how states are covered under Section 5 of the law, which requires Federal preclearance to protect against discriminatory voting measures. The bill updates the coverage formula by making all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years.  States and jurisdictions that have had a clean record over the last 15 years would not be subject to coverage.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the first Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, and it has been reauthorized four times since. President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization into law in 2006, after the House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 in favor of the legislation.  

Sensenbrenner, who led House consideration in 2006 and who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer about the importance of the Voting Rights Act, said Thursday that “This legislation is a direct response to Shelby County v. Holder. When that ruling came down last summer, I knew the VRA must be fixed before the next election and any solution must be politically palatable while complying with the objections of the Supreme Court. The modernized VRA is constitutional and bipartisan. It includes strong, nationwide anti-discrimination protections and continues to permit states to enact reasonable voter ID laws. Therefore, it prevents racial-discrimination and gives states the ability to address voter fraud.”

“Through months of negotiation and compromise, Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers and I have agreed on a bipartisan and bicameral proposal to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court’s decision last summer,” Leahy said.  “Our sole focus throughout this entire process was to ensure that no American would be denied his or her constitutional right to vote because of discrimination on the basis of race or color.  We believe that this is a strong bipartisan bill that accomplishes this goal and that every member of Congress can support.”

Conyers, ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who cosponsored the original Voting Rights Act in 1965, said that “Nearly fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful vision of ‘jobs, justice, and peace’ inspired my first run for Congress and became the cause of my life. After being sworn in as freshman Member of the 89th Congress, the first vote of consequence that I took was for the Voting Rights Act. Although the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are introducing a strengthened and renewed Voting Rights Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to the cornerstone of our democracy: the right to vote.”

An outline of the legislation can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

Key provisions in the bill include:

•    A coverage provision based on current conditions.  The bill establishes a rolling nationwide trigger that covers states or jurisdictions that have a persistent record of recent voting rights violations in the last 15 years.

•    Allows our federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance.  The current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for intentional violations, but the new legislation amends the Act to allow states or        jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based violations.

•    Greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes.  The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.

•    Allows for preliminary relief to be obtained more readily, given that voting rights cannot often be vindicated after an election is already over.

•    Includes modest provisions that continue to permit states to enact reasonable photo identification laws.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) plans to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin against the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The purpose of the suit is to end the employer contribution authorized for Members of Congress and their staffs who have entered the District of Colombia healthcare exchange as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. 
 
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “Senator Johnson’s lawsuit is an unfortunate political stunt. I am committed to repealing Obamacare, but the employer contribution he’s attacking is nothing more than a standard benefit that most private and all federal employees receive – including the President.  Success in the suit will mean that Congress will lose some of its best staff and will be staffed primarily by recent college graduates who are still on their parents’ insurance.  This will make it even more difficult to fight the President and his older, more experienced staff.  

“Senator Johnson should spend his time legislating rather than litigating as our country is facing big problems that must be addressed by Congress – not the courts. All Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, but this politically motivated lawsuit only takes public attention away from how bad all of Obamacare really is and focuses it on a trivial issue. Fortunately, Senator Johnson’s suit is likely frivolous and will not achieve the result he’s seeking.” 
Today, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-5), Darrell Issa (CA-49), Trent Franks (AZ-08), Blake Farenthold (TX-27), Trey Gowdy (SC-04), Raul Labrador (ID-01) and Ted Poe (TX-02) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. urging an investigation of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, for lying to Congress while testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March of 2013.  

“Director Clapper’s willful lie under oath fuels the unhealthy cynicism and distrust that citizens feel toward their government and undermines Congress’s ability to perform its Constitutional function,” the Members write in their letter to Holder. “There are differences of opinion about the propriety of the NSA’s data collection programs.  There can be no disagreement, however, on the basic premise that congressional witnesses must answer truthfully.”

“Congressional oversight depends on truthful testimony—witnesses cannot be allowed to lie to Congress.  Accordingly, we request you investigate Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s ‘erroneous’ statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year.”

At a March 12, 2013 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Director Clapper was asked if, “the NSA collected any type of data at all on millions of hundreds of millions of Americans” to which he responded with, “No, Sir.”  Four months later, in June 2013, after the Snowden leaks publicly exposed Clapper’s testimony as false, Clapper finally retracted his remarks and wrote, “My response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize.”
U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) today celebrated the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which included a provision to posthumously award Lt. Alonzo Cushing with the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Cushing, a Wisconsin-born Civil War hero, played a key role in securing a victory for the Union at Gettysburg.

“Lieutenant Cushing was a courageous leader who gave his life to protect our country and deserves to be recognized for his bravery,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said. “I am extremely pleased that the Cushing amendment was passed by the House and Senate and hopeful President Obama awards Lieutenant Cushing with the Medal of Honor for his heroic service during the Civil War."

“It’s never too late to do the right thing, especially when it comes to honoring our war heroes,” said Rep. Kind. “I am heartened to be joined by my colleagues in Congress in sending this bill to the President so we as a nation can finally honor Lt. Cushing with his well-deserved Medal of Honor.”

A native of Delafield, WI, Lt. Cushing is best remembered for his actions on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg when he helped turn the tide during Pickett’s Charge. On July 3, 1863, the third day of battle, Cushing and the 110 men under his command received the full force of Confederate artillery and Pickett’s Charge of 13,000 infantry. Over the course of just a few hours, all of his officers had been killed and Cushing himself was wounded. But he continued to fight, and sustained two more wounds before dying on the field of battle.

Recommendations for the Medal of Honor must be formally made within two years of the heroic action and awarded within three years. The legislation passed by Congress makes it possible to waive this requirement.  The medal can be awarded after the bill is signed by the President and the waiver is approved by the Department of Defense. Reps. Kind and Sensenbrenner are sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requesting his prompt attention to Lt. Cushing’s record and look forward to his recommendation that Lt. Cushing be recognized with the Medal of Honor.

Reps. Kind and Sensenbrenner also thanked Wisconsin Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin for leading the effort in the Senate to award Lt. Cushing.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon today issued a decision, ruling that the NSA’s metadata collection program is likely unconstitutional.   

Questioning the constitutionality of the collection program, Judge Leon wrote: “The Government, in its understandable zeal to protect our homeland, has crafted a counterterrorism program with respect to telephony metadata that strikes the balance based in large part on a thirty-four year old Supreme Court precedent, the relevance of which has been eclipsed by technology advances and a cell phone-centric lifestyle heretofore inconceivable.”

He also stated: “The Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”

Leon granted “an injunction and enter[ed] an order that (1) bars the government from collection, as part of the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program, any telephony metadata associated with their personal Verizon accounts and (2) requires the Government to destroy any such metadata in its possession that was collected through the bulk collection program.”

Leon will stay his order pending an appeal. “In doing so, I hereby give the Government fair notice that should my ruling be upheld, this order will go into effect forthwith.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “Judge Leon’s decision further highlights the need to pass the USA FREEDOM Act. The slow trickle of revelations that began in June about NSA spying have exposed the most intrusive and secretive programs in American history. From the onset, I have been extremely critical of the government’s dragnet collection of Americans’ data.  I am encouraged by the district court’s ruling. It will add to the growing momentum behind the USA FREEDOM Act, which has garnered support from a large, diverse bloc of my colleagues and the business community. The Executive Branch should join Congress to institute meaningful reform.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the USA FREEDOM Act on October 29. This legislation would restore Americans’ privacy rights by reining in the dragnet collection of data by the NSA and other government agencies, increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), provide businesses the ability to release information regarding FISA requests and create an independent constitutional advocate to argue cases before the FISC.

The USA FREEDOM Act currently has 115 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 18 in the Senate. It also has the support of tech giants AOL, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Mozilla and others.