Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during the Committee’s hearing on H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2019”, which deals with voting rights, campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws.
Below are Chairman Nadler’s remarks, as prepared:
“While the specific question before us concerns the merits of H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2019,” the broader issue is what kind of country America is, and should be.
“H.R. 1, a comprehensive bill that strengthens our voting, campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws in numerous ways, is a notable attempt to renew our Nation’s commitment to having a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
“America’s promise lies in its democracy. When at its best, our Nation has taken pride in being the world’s oldest democracy and has defined itself not by race, religion, or ethnicity, but by its democratic and constitutionally-based system of government—one that strives to guarantee individual freedom and genuine representation of its citizens. This is what has made America a “shining city on a hill” in the world’s eyes for over 200 years.
“Yet, the general arc of our Nation’s politics over the last generation has made it easy to be cynical—easy to say that America has, in that time, increasingly tended towards an oligarchy, in which more and more of the political power is concentrated in fewer and fewer wealthy and powerful hands.
“H.R. 1 is a bold and far-reaching attempt to correct this dangerous drift away from representative democracy, by reducing the role of money in politics, by restoring ethical standards and integrity to government, and by strengthening laws to protect voting.
“For example, the bill declares Congress’s commitment to re-invigorating the Voting Rights Act, by restoring the Act’s most important enforcement mechanism—its preclearance provision.
“Before the Voting Rights Act, States and localities passed a host of voter suppression laws, secure in the knowledge that it could take many years before the Justice Department could successfully challenge them in court, if at all. As soon as one law was overturned, another would be enacted, essentially setting up a discriminatory game of whac-a-mole.
“Preclearance broke this legal logjam, by requiring States and localities with a history of discrimination against racial and ethnic minority voters to submit changes to their voting laws to the Justice Department or a court for approval prior to taking effect.
“This vital provision was effectively gutted in 2013, however, when the Supreme Court issued its disastrous decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down the formula for determining which States and localities are subject to the preclearance requirement. In its absence, the game of whac-a-mole has returned.
“Predictably, some States wasted no time enacting discriminatory voter suppression laws in the wake of the Shelby County decision. In fact, North Carolina and Texas announced their intention to reinstate such measures just one day after Shelby County was decided.
“A 2018 report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission confirms that many other formerly-covered jurisdictions have also become emboldened to enact discriminatory voting measures since preclearance was effectively eliminated. They know how difficult it is to challenge such laws after they go into effect. Restoring preclearance is essential to preventing the further erosion of voting rights.
“It does not help that President Trump has encouraged conspiracy theories about massive voter fraud as a justification for voter identification laws, and other voter suppression tactics.
“Just this past Sunday, the President seized on tentative and unverified information from Texas election officials about potential non-citizens who were registered to vote.
“He sent a wildly misleading tweet about the report, calling voter fraud rampant, and demanding voter ID laws. I hope our witnesses today will help dispel the dangerous myth of widespread voter fraud.
“H.R. 1 also incorporates the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2019,” legislation I introduced on the first day of this Congress, that would restore federal voting rights for citizens with felony convictions. Many states deny voting rights for such citizens, permanently branding them with a “scarlet letter” long after they have paid their debt to society.
“Not only is ex-offender disenfranchisement wrong and anti-democratic in and of itself, many of these laws were deliberately designed to entrench white supremacy.
“And they continue to have a particularly disproportionate impact on communities of color, exacerbating the racially discriminatory effect of other voter suppression measures.
“H.R. 1 also aims to end voter intimidation, the dissemination of deceptive voting information, and other voter suppression tactics, by prohibiting such activities and adding, or increasing, criminal penalties for violations.
“In addition to enhancing voting rights protections, H.R. 1 takes aim at the increasing dominance of big money and dark money in politics, and influence peddling, all of which take governing decisions away from ordinary people, and diminishes their faith in government.
“For example, the bill outlines the many important reasons why the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C., which unleashed a flood of dark money in politics, must be overturned.
“It also closes the shadow lobbying loophole and requires that those who provide legislative, political, and strategic counseling services in support of someone else’s lobbying activity is also required to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
“In addition, the bill enhances the Foreign Agents Registration Act by creating a new enforcement office at the Department of Justice, and giving it authority to pursue civil penalties.
“H.R. 1 also includes a provision that passed last year, on a bipartisan basis, to require the development of a judicial code of ethics that would apply to all federal judges, including the Supreme Court—the only court in the country currently not subject to any binding code of ethics.
“H.R. 1 helps level the playing field to give ordinary Americans the voice that they deserve in how our country is governed. Now, more than ever, Congress must return to fundamental American ideals in leading our country out of the darkness. Passing H.R. 1 is an important first step on that journey.
“I thank our witnesses for appearing, and I look forward to hearing from them.”