For the People Act of 2019
|Full title||An Act to expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes.|
|Introduced in||116th United States Congress|
|Introduced on||Jan 3, 2019|
|Number of co-sponsors||225|
The For The People Act of 2019 (H.R. 1, 2019) is a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives to expand voting rights, limit partisan gerrymandering, strengthen ethics rules, and limit the influence of private donor money in politics. It was introduced by John Sarbanes (D-MD) on January 3, 2019 on behalf of the newly elected Democratic majority as the first official legislation of the 116th United States Congress.
- Campaign finance reform. The bill would introduce voluntary public financing for campaigns, matching small donations at a 6:1 ratio. It would also introduce stricter limitations on foreign lobbying, require Super PACs and other "dark money" organizations to disclose their donors, and restructure the Federal Election Commission to reduce partisan gridlock. The bill also expresses support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, where the Supreme Court held that spending money can be critical to exercising the freedom of speech, and so virtually unlimited political spending by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations was a constitutional right.
- Government ethics. The bill would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to disclose their previous 10 years of income-tax returns, eliminate the use of taxpayer money by politicians to settle sexual-harassment claims, and create a new ethics code for the U.S. Supreme Court, which is not subject to existing judicial codes of conduct.
- Voting rights. The bill would create a national voter-registration program, make Election Day a federal holiday, replace partisan gerrymandering with non-partisan commissions to draw electoral districts, and limit efforts to purge voting rolls.
The bill was viewed as a comprehensive statement of the priorities of the Democratic congressional majority elected in 2018. The New York Times has called the bill "the Democrats’ signature piece of legislation". The bill was opposed by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, who pledged that the bill was "not going to go anywhere in the Senate". In March 2019, McConnell said he would not put the bill to a vote on the Senate floor, "Because I [McConnell] get to decide what we vote on". Representative John Sarbanes, the drafter of the legislation, argued that the public popularity of the bill's provisions would ultimately lead to its passage. The bill passed in the House on March 8, 2019, with a vote of 234-193 along strict party lines.
Voting Rights for Felons
The authority of the United States Congress over elections is extensive. One feature of the proposed legislation is that convicted felons could not be denied the right to vote unless currently in prison. Whether congressional authority extends this far is subject to disagreement, with arguments being made for and against. Fourteen states have laws that indefinitely deny voting rights for some convicted felons, twenty-two do not restore voting rights until after parole and/or probation, and some states require payment of fines or restitution.[a]
Supreme Court Ethics
Another part of the proposed legislation instructs the Judicial Conference to establish rules of ethics binding on the Supreme Court. It is unclear whether Congress has the constitutional authority to impose ethics requirements on Supreme Court Justices, which, ironically, is a question that the Court ultimately may have to decide. In 2011, Chief Justice Roberts made it clear in his end-of-year report that he believed Congress didn’t have the constitutional power to impose conduct rules on the Supreme Court. The reason is that the Supreme Court was established by the Constitution, according to which the justices serve as long as they exhibit "good behavior," or face possible impeachment and removal for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Lower federal courts, by contrast, were created by Congress and are subject to the rules that Congress establishes. Because of this some suggest that the purpose of the proposed ethics rules would not be punishment or even enforcement, but rather only a promulgation of rules so that Supreme Court justices can be held accountable for their conduct in the court of public opinion. In addition, a documented ethics violation could be relevant to a potential impeachment proceeding. Others argue that Congress has the authority to require the Supreme Court to write its own code of ethics. In 1991 the Supreme Court adopted a resolution that officers and employees of the Court will comply with the substance of the Judicial Conference Regulations, subject to stated clarifications.
Statehood for the District of Columbia
The proposed legislation also calls for statehood for the District of Columbia, arguing that the District has a larger population than two States, Wyoming and Vermont, and is close to the population of the seven States that have a population of under one million fully represented residents, and claiming that Congress has the authority to admit new States to the union through legislation. Others argue that a constitutional amendment would be required. The question of admission of the District of Columbia as a State has a long history. Statehood for D.C. is expected to be opposed by Republicans, since it would almost certainly put more Democrats in Congress. The one time the House voted on statehood, in 1993, the proposal failed 277 to 153, with support from 60 percent of Democrats and one Republican.
Congressional redistricting occurs every 10 years as congressional boundaries are redrawn after the Census. Under Article One of the Constitution, the state legislature controls this process. In order to prevent gerrymandering, the proposed legislation would require states to use independent commissions to design their congressional districts. If they declined to do so, the federal government would set one up for them.
In 2015 the Supreme Court decided 5 to 4 in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that even though the Constitution calls for the legislature to draw the district lines, an independent commission could constitutionally be appointed to perform this function. Some observers have suggested that now with Brett Kavanaugh having replaced Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court the support may no longer exist to uphold the constitutionality of independent commissions setting congressional districts, or that the court could interpret the precedent narrowly so as to limit the use of independent commissions. The question of gerrymandering is active on the docket of the Supreme Court, which will hear two such cases in 2019.
Number of Federal Election Commissioners
Under current law, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is made up of six members, no more than three of whom can be members of the same political party, with at least four votes being required for any official FEC action. The complaint is that this has resulted in an impotent and gridlocked FEC, with important reforms being left unaddressed, such as the updating of campaign finance law for the digital age and the effective regulation of political donations. Some advocates for reform have blamed the Republican members of the FEC for being unwilling to either investigate any potential violations or to impose tougher restrictions, and for loosening restrictions simply by signaling what standards they are willing to enforce.
The proposed bill would give the FEC five commissioners instead of six, reducing the likelihood of tie votes, and would require that no more than two can be members of the same political party. It would set up a "Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel" consisting of an odd number of individuals selected by the President from retired Federal judges, former law enforcement officials, or individuals with experience in election law, except that the President could not select any individual to serve on the panel who holds any public office at the time of selection, but the President would not be required to choose from among those recommended by the Panel. Observers point out that there would be no built-in benefit for either party.
Reactions and statements
On January 29th, 2019, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement criticizing the Act as a "one-sided power grab" by the Democratic Party and assuring that "It may pass the House, but not the Senate". He called the bill the "Democrat Politician Protection Act" in the statement. He further criticized the bill for giving the federal government more power over elections, saying it would "[give] Washington D.C. politicians even more control over who gets to come here [Congress] in the first place." On March 6, McConnell indicated to journalists that he would not allow the bill a vote on the Senate floor, even as he would allow a vote on the Green New Deal resolution. Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted criticism of the Act in March.
- Government by the People Act, a 2014 bill with some of the same goals and co-sponsors
- The 14 states include Maryland, where convictions for buying or selling votes can only be restored through pardon, and Florida, where those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense must still petition the governor for restoration of voting rights on a case by case basis. Florida was also included in the 22 number since for other felonies voting rights are restored after parole/probation.
- "HR1 - The For The People Act of 2019". www.brennancenter.org. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
- 116th Congress (2019) (January 3, 2019). "H.R. 1 (116th)". Legislation. GovTrack.us. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
For the People Act of 2019
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- Specht, Paul. "Crenshaw wrong about HR1 'legalizing' NC-like election fraud". @politifact. Retrieved 16 March 2019.