Capitol Police Officer William F. Evans was killed and a second officer was injured after being rammed by a vehicle at the heavily guarded northern entrance to the U.S. Capitol on Friday, the acting chief of the Capitol Police said. The suspect was shot and killed.
Officer Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force who served with the department’s first responder unit and was known to friends as Billy, was injured in the violent confrontation and died shortly after, the chief, Yogananda D. Pittman, said in a statement.
“It is with a very, very heavy heart that I announce one of our officers has succumbed to his injuries,” Ms. Pittman said at a news conference near the scene of the attack, her voice choked with emotion. “I just ask that the public continue to keep U.S. Capitol Police and their families in your prayers.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Officer Evans “a martyr for our democracy.”
The other officer was in “stable and nonthreatening condition,” the Capitol Police said on Friday evening.
After ramming the officers, the attacker “exited the vehicle with a knife in hand” and began “lunging” at the officers, Ms. Pittman said at the news conference. The suspect was subsequently identified by a senior law enforcement official as Noah Green, 25, of Indiana.
Investigators do not yet know the motive for the attack, but do not believe it was “terrorism-related” at this time, Chief Robert J. Contee III of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department told reporters.
Ms. Pittman did not identify Mr. Green, but said that the driver had not been previously known to her agency. On his Facebook page, which has since been taken down, Mr. Green described himself as a supporter of the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and said he had been struggling through the last few months of the pandemic.
The attack was the most serious security threat at the Capitol since the deadly Jan. 6 riot that injured dozens and killed five people. A National Guard quick-response team, which was deployed after the riot, and the local police were on hand at the already heavily fortified Capitol complex.
President Biden ordered flags at the White House to be flown at half-staff in honor of Officer Evans, and Ms. Pelosi ordered the same at the Capitol.
Mr. Biden, who had left Washington to go to Camp David before the attack, said in a statement that he was receiving “ongoing briefings” from his homeland security adviser.
“Jill and I were heartbroken to learn of the violent attack at a security checkpoint on the U.S. Capitol grounds, which killed Officer William Evans of the U.S. Capitol Police and left a fellow officer fighting for his life,” Mr. Biden said. “We send our heartfelt condolences to Officer Evans’s family and everyone grieving his loss. We know what a difficult time this has been for the Capitol, everyone who works there and those who protect it.”
In recent days, some Republicans, citing the diminished threat of violence at the Capitol, had called for scaling back some security measures. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, complained last month that the cordon of fencing and armed soldiers were “overdone,” and said the militarized atmosphere reminded him of his “last visit to Kabul” in 2015.
On Friday, he praised the Capitol Police.
“Once again, brave officers of the United States Capitol Police have been violently attacked while simply doing their job,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement, adding, “We could not be more grateful for the professionalism and heroism of the officers who neutralized this threat at the checkpoint and for the entire U.S.C.P. force, who have had to endure so much in just a few short months.”
The Capitol went into lockdown around 1 p.m. on what had been a quiet, sunny Friday, with the police instructing staff to remain inside, away from doors and windows, and to “seek cover” if they were outside, citing an unspecified “external security threat.”
Images posted on social media appeared to show emergency workers treating someone on the driveway of the Capitol. A blue car could be seen rammed into a security barricade, with the driver’s side door and trunk open.
One member of the news media, Jake Sherman, posted a video showing a helicopter landing near the building, hovering a few feet off the ground and then careening through trees as police vehicles drove across the plaza.
Around 2:30 p.m. on Friday, the Capitol Police said that the threat to the building had been “neutralized.”
With Congress in recess, most lawmakers were not on Capitol Hill. But many aides were in and around the Capitol working or receiving coronavirus vaccinations.
Amr Alfiky/The New York Times
Amr Alfiky/The New York Times
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
The attack came more than a week after officials removed a perimeter fence topped with razor wire that had been placed around the complex after the Jan. 6 riot, and reopened the streets surrounding the Capitol to vehicle traffic.
They also announced that they would reduce the number of National Guard troops on Capitol Hill to 2,200 while extending their deployment until May 23.
An inner-perimeter fence around the actual Capitol building remains in place while the police and lawmakers continue to hash out a long-term security plan.
Ben Decker contributed reporting.
Early Friday afternoon, the United States Capitol was locked down after a suspect rammed a vehicle into two Capitol Police officers. Here is what we know as of 7:30 p.m.
What we know
One Capitol Police officer was killed, and another officer was injured. The suspect was also killed.
The officer who died has been identified as William F. Evans, an 18-year veteran of the Capitol Police.
The suspect has been identified as Noah Green, 25, of Indiana. On his Facebook page, he said he was struggling during the pandemic and described himself as a follower of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.
Mr. Green rammed a vehicle into the two officers, then got out of the vehicle and lunged at the officers with a knife, according to the acting chief of the Capitol Police.
The Capitol was locked down around 1 p.m., and the police declared the threat “neutralized” about an hour and a half later.
Congress is on recess, so most lawmakers were not at the Capitol, but many staff members were. President Biden also was not in Washington, having left earlier in the day for Camp David.
What we don’t know
The identity of the second police officer, which will not be released until his or her family is notified.
Mr. Green’s motive for the attack.
The Capitol Police identified the officer killed in the line of duty on Friday as William F. Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force.
Officer Evans was one of two officers who were injured when they were rammed by a vehicle at the U.S. Capitol. He was later pronounced dead.
“It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of Officer William ‘Billy’ Evans this afternoon from injuries he sustained following an attack at the north barricade by a lone assailant,” Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, said in a statement.
The driver, who emerged from the car with a knife, was shot and killed, according to the police.
Officer Evans began working for the Capitol Police on March 7, 2003, and was a member of the first responder unit.
Officer Evans’s death comes after a horrific few months for the Capitol Police force. Nearly 140 officers were injured during a deadly assault on the building on Jan. 6 by a pro-Trump mob. Officer Brian Sicknick died of injuries he sustained during the siege.
“This has been an extremely difficult time for U.S. Capitol Police,” Chief Pittman said.
Officer Evans was born in North Adams, Mass., The Boston Globe reported. “He loved being a U.S. Capitol Police officer more than anyone could really say,” City Councilor Jason M. LaForest told The Globe in an interview on Friday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called Officer Evans a “martyr for our democracy,” said in a letter to congressional colleagues that she had been in touch with Officer Evans’s family.
“I have conveyed our prayers and condolences to his mother, Janice, with our offer of assistance to her and Officer Evans’ children, Logan and Abigail,” Ms. Pelosi said in the letter. “I have also conveyed the prayers of the Congress with our ongoing promise of help in any way to the family of the other Officer harmed, who exhibited great valor in defending the Capitol.”
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said he was “heartbroken” at Officer Evans’s death.
“Once again, brave officers of the United States Capitol Police have been violently attacked while simply doing their job,” he said. “The Senate is praying hard for the second injured officer and for Officer Evans’s family and friends. We could not be more grateful for the professionalism and heroism of the officers who neutralized this threat at the checkpoint and for the entire U.S.C.P. force, who have had to endure so much in just a few short months.”
The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said he had also spoken with Officer Evans’s family on Friday night, telling them that the Senate mourned his loss and appreciated his bravery, a spokesman for the senator’s office said.
President Biden has ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff at all federal buildings, including the White House, Ms. Pelosi said.
“Members of Congress, staff and Capitol workers, and indeed all Americans, are united in appreciation for the courage of the U.S. Capitol Police,” she said. “Today, once again, these heroes risked their lives to protect our Capitol and our country, with the same extraordinary selflessness and spirit of service seen on Jan. 6.”
The suspect in the death of a Capitol Police officer described himself on Facebook as a follower of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who has repeatedly promoted anti-Semitism.
The suspect, Noah R. Green, 25, was identified by two law enforcement officials and a congressional official. He was from Indiana and died after being shot by the Capitol Police.
On Facebook, Mr. Green had posted speeches and articles written by Mr. Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam from 1934 to 1975, that discussed the decline of America. Two law enforcement officials confirmed that the Facebook page, which was taken down on Friday, had belonged to Mr. Green.
Mr. Green posted on Facebook about his personal struggles, especially during the pandemic.
“To be honest, these past few years have been tough, and these past few months have been tougher,” he wrote. “I have been tried with some of the biggest, unimaginable tests in my life. I am currently now unemployed, after I left my job, partly due to afflictions.”
He also spoke on Facebook about the “end times” and the anti-Christ. On March 17, he posted a photo of a donation he had made to the Norfolk, Va., chapter of the Nation of Islam, along with a video of a Farrakhan speech titled “The Divine Destruction of America.”
Later that day, he encouraged his friends to join him in studying the teachings of Mr. Farrakhan and Mr. Muhammad.
Mr. Green was born in West Virginia, attended high school in Virginia, then enrolled in Glenville State College where he played football before transferring to Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. He played defensive back on the Christopher Newport football team and graduated in 2019 with a degree in finance.
In December 2020, he petitioned to change his name to Noah Zaeem Muhammad but failed to appear at his hearing in Indianapolis last Tuesday.
The Nation of Islam is a Black nationalist movement that has advocated African-American self-sufficiency.
The National Guard, which has maintained a presence on Capitol Hill since the Jan. 6 attack, deployed what it called an immediate reaction force of soldiers and airmen on Friday afternoon following a security incident that killed one Capitol Police officer and wounded a second.
The suspect, who rammed his vehicle into the officers and exited the vehicle holding a knife, was shot and killed. No National Guard troops were injured in the attack.
Guard troops were seen running near the Capitol complex with riot gear following the attack. It is unclear exactly how many soldiers and airmen were assigned to the reaction force and it is not known how long they will remain at the site.
According to a statement from the Washington D.C. National Guard, the reaction force was deployed at the request of the U.S. Capitol Police. The statement declined to offer additional details, citing operational security concerns.
In an interview, Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesman, said that “slightly less than 2,300” Guard troops are currently assigned to protect the Capitol, down from the nearly 26,000 who came to Washington, D.C., to help provide security for President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Many of those soldiers and airmen were quickly released from their duties and sent back home following the inauguration, but in early March a request from the Capitol Police to retain a force of more than 2,200 Guard troops through May 23 was approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
read on: other key stories in washington and politics
President Biden touted Friday’s strong jobs report as proof that his focus on the pandemic and passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is working, and he called on Congress to quickly pass a new infrastructure bill he says will create 19 million new jobs.
“The first two months of our administration has seen more new jobs created than the first two months of any administration in history. But we still have a long way to go,” said Mr. Biden in a brief statement at the White House before a planned trip to Camp David for the Easter holiday.
Mr. Biden said he was willing to compromise with Republicans on the details of his $2.3 trillion proposal, but warned that “inaction is not an option.”
Employers added 916,000 jobs in March, up from 416,000 in February and the most since August, the Labor Department said Friday, led by a robust rebound in the hard-hit restaurant, resort and construction sectors.
The heartening numbers, while not unexpected, come at a critical political moment for Mr. Biden and his allies as they make their case for the infrastructure proposal titled “The American Jobs Plan” — one which Republicans deride as a “job killer” because it hikes taxes on corporations and high earners.
Mr. Biden’s team is packed with veterans from the Obama White House intent on leveraging the good news for maximum gain. They are also determined to learn from the messaging missteps during President Barack Obama’s first term, when they were wary of trumpeting economic news for fear of prompting a political backlash, according to administration officials. Mr. Obama’s advisers struggled to take credit for a sluggish, stop-and-start recovery that began much later in his presidency.
While Mr. Biden went out of his way to credit “the American people” for the gains, Ron Klain, his chief of staff, wrote on Twitter earlier Friday that “Help is here,” employing the cavalry-has-arrived slogan that Mr. Biden has often used.
“It puts the wind in their sails, the spring in their step — now they’ve got the momentum,” said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s first chief of staff.
With the pandemic, Mr. Emanuel argued, the president has “a different permission slip” than Mr. Obama.
“The virus has been around for a year, and the meltdown associated with the virus seems to be coming to an end. Today people have empathy for 500,000 lost lives and their families. Back then people wanted to kill 500,000 bankers,” said Mr. Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago.
But the Biden administration is also trying to strike the right balance between sobriety and self-congratulation, mindful of not appearing insensitive to the millions of Americans still suffering hardship from the devastation and dislocation caused by the pandemic.
Cecilia E. Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaking on MSNBC after the numbers were announced, cautioned that while the report “suggests confidence is building” in the recovery, “we’re still 8.4 million jobs fewer than we were at this time last year.”
When a reporter asked Mr. Biden how he planned to woo Republicans for his infrastructure plan, the president questioned how his congressional opponents could oppose some of the proposal’s provisions, especially funding to eliminate lead pipes.
It would be quickly passed, he said, if lead was found in water fountains on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Biden also mocked his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, for promising but not delivering on pledges to pass his own infrastructure bill.
“Every second week was infrastructure week, but no infrastructure was ever built,” he said.
Major League Baseball sent a warning shot on Friday to Republicans considering new laws to restrict voting, pulling its summer All-Star game out of suburban Atlanta in a rebuke to Georgia’s new election rules that will make it harder to vote in the state’s urban areas.
The announcement by the baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, came after days of lobbying from civil rights groups and discussions with stakeholders like the Major League Baseball Players Association. The action is likely to put additional pressure on other organizations and corporations to consider pulling business out of Georgia, a move that both Republicans and Democrats in the state oppose despite fiercely disagreeing about the new voting law.
Mr. Manfred’s decision to move the All-Star Game goes far beyond what any other leading American institution has done so far to take a stand against new voting restrictions, and his strongly worded announcement was striking for a league with owners who span the political spectrum.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Mr. Manfred said in a statement. “Fair access to voting continues to have our unwavering support.”
The law in Georgia, signed last week by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, was the first major bill of voting restrictions to be passed in a battleground state since the 2020 election. It added new identification requirements for absentee voting, limited the use of drop boxes, granted more authority over elections to the legislature and made it a misdemeanor for groups to offer food or water to voters waiting in line near polling places.
This week, President Biden joined a growing call for the relocation of the game because of the voting law, which he and civil rights groups predicted would have an outsize impact on people of color.
The league said it was finalizing details about new locations for this year’s All-Star Game, which was scheduled for July 13, and the draft. Before the announcement, baseball had faced the unsettling prospect of celebrating an All-Star week dedicated to the former Atlanta Braves great Hank Aaron, a Black pioneer of the game who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, against the backdrop of a Georgia elections overhaul widely seen as targeting Black voters.
The Biden administration apprehended more than 170,000 migrants at the southwest border in March, the most in any month for at least 15 years and up nearly 70 percent from February, government documents obtained by The New York Times show.
Thousands of children remained backed up in detention facilities and border agents released an increasing number of migrant families into the United States.
More than 18,700 unaccompanied children and teenagers were taken into custody last month after crossing the border, including at port entries, nearly double the roughly 9,450 minors detained in February and more than four times the 4,635 unaccompanied minors who crossed in March of last year, the documents show.
The sharp increases underscored the political and logistical challenges to the administration of managing the flow of people coming from Central America, including the need to more quickly move unaccompanied children and teenagers into emergency shelters at military sites and conventions centers throughout the United States. Many of the children are seeking to join parents, relatives or other people they know who are already in the country
The spokesman for Representative Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican under federal investigation into whether he violated laws against sex trafficking, has abruptly resigned amid mounting scrutiny of his boss, the congressman’s office confirmed on Friday.
Luke Ball, a longtime aide to Mr. Gaetz who was serving as his communications director, had as recently as this week been helping Mr. Gaetz mount a defense against the newly disclosed Justice Department investigation.
Mr. Ball had weighed the impact leaving would have on Mr. Gaetz but ultimately decided it was best to do so under the circumstances, according to a person familiar with his decision, who asked for anonymity to describe it.
“The Office of Congressman Matt Gaetz and Luke Ball have agreed that it would be best to part ways,” the office said in a brief statement relayed by Mr. Gaetz’s chief of staff. “We thank him for his time in our office, and we wish him the best moving forward.”
Mr. Ball had worked with Mr. Gaetz, a third-term congressman representing the Florida Panhandle, since he first began serving in the House in 2017, earning a reputation as one of Mr. Gaetz’s closest aides. Starting as a part-time staff member in the congressman’s Pensacola office, Mr. Ball later became Mr. Gaetz’s deputy campaign manager in 2018 and then his press secretary and communications director in Washington.
[Read more on what we know about the investigation of Matt Gaetz.]
The New York Times first reported this week that the Justice Department has been investigating whether Mr. Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she received anything of value. Then on Thursday, The Times reported that the inquiry was broader and investigators were examining involvement by the congressman and an indicted Florida associate with women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments.
Mr. Gaetz has denied paying for sex or having sex with a minor. He has undertaken a media blitz in recent days to shift attention to what he claims was a plot to extort his family of $25 million to make his legal liability “go away.”
President Biden’s attempt to muscle through a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure — along with tax increases to pay for it — will be a defining test of his belief that bipartisan support for his proposals can overwhelm traditional Republican objections in Congress.
Instead of paring back his ambitions in an effort to limit opposition from Republicans in the Senate or appease moderate Democrats in the House, Mr. Biden and his allies on Capitol Hill are barreling ahead with unapologetically bold, expensive measures, betting that they can build bipartisanship from voters nationwide rather than from elected officials in Washington.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and other members of his party are working to brand the bill as a liberal wish list of wasteful spending and a money grab from a Democratic administration that will drag down the economy with tax hikes.
But Mr. Biden is predicting that the broad appeal of wider roads, faster internet, high-speed trains, ubiquitous charging stations for electric cars, shiny new airport terminals and upgraded water pipes will undercut the expected barrage of ideological attacks that are already coming from Republican lawmakers, business groups, anti-tax activists and former President Donald J. Trump.
In his first cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday, Mr. Biden directed several of his top officials to travel the country during the next several weeks to sell the benefits of the infrastructure plan. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, also told reporters that the president would host Democrats and Republicans in the Oval Office to discuss the measure and their ideas.
“I hope and believe the American people will join this effort — Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Mr. Biden said in Pittsburgh on Wednesday as he formally announced his plan. He compared it to the popularity of the nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that passed last month, saying, “If you live in a town with a Republican mayor, a Republican county executive or a Republican governor, ask them how many would rather get rid of the plan.”
But generating sustained support for the proposal is shaping up to be a major challenge for the White House. The business lobby is preparing to wage a full-scale campaign against the tax increases in the president’s plan, with influential groups like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warning lawmakers against raising taxes as the United States emerges from a deep economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
At an event in his home state on Thursday, Mr. McConnell called Mr. Biden “a first-rate person” whom he liked personally. But he argued that the president was running a “bold, left-wing administration” and warned “that package that they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side.”
Negotiations on how to bring both the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will take place among all parties in Vienna next week, but there will be no direct talks between Iran and the United States.
How to sequence the return of both countries to the terms of the deal has been a complicated political and technical question, with both sides insisting the other move first. The Vienna talks, which will begin on Tuesday, will be the first serious effort since President Biden took office to figure out how that can happen.
Mr. Biden wants to return to the deal, negotiated while he was vice president, and which placed tough but temporary limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting American and international sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the United States, which the participants agreed in on Friday will be carried out in person through intermediaries, will seek to agree on a road map on how to synchronize steps to return to their commitments, including the lifting of economic sanctions, a U.S. official said. The United States would not seek to retain some sanctions for leverage, the official said, arguing that the previous “maximum pressure” campaign waged against Iran by the Trump administration had failed.
Once Iran and other signatories, including Germany, France, Britain and the European Union, as chair, work out the road map, the official said, then Iran and the United States would ideally meet to finalize the details to get to where both say they want to be.
President Donald J. Trump had pulled the United States out in May 2018 — calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated” — and restored and then enhanced harsh economic sanctions against Iran, trying to force it to renegotiate. Iran responded in part by enriching uranium significantly beyond the limits in the agreement and building more advanced centrifuges.
Mr. Biden’s team has said that once there is mutual compliance with the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Washington wants to negotiate further with Iran. Other goals include extending the time limitations in the deal and trying to limit Iran’s missile programs and military support in the Middle East for groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Shia militias, let alone for the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.
Both sides have been trying through the Europeans to find a way back to the agreement without causing political problems at home. Iran has a key presidential election in June and the government clearly wants to show some progress toward the lifting of punishing sanctions before then. Mr. Biden will likely be aiming not to give Republicans in the Senate, most of whom opposed the deal in the first place, any sense that he is giving in to Iranian demands.
But time is a factor for Washington, too: Iran is now thought to be only a few months away from having enough highly enriched uranium to create at least one nuclear weapon.
Looking to correct what Democrats largely view as a failure of the Obama administration to sell its health care and economic stimulus laws to the public, American Bridge, the Democratic super PAC, this week began the first major advertising campaign backing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation.
The first advertisements, which are part of a planned $100 million campaign leading into the 2022 midterm elections, are airing on television in Phoenix and Macon, Ga., and feature testimonials from small-business owners and military veterans promoting the federal stimulus package, vouching for Mr. Biden by name with the same refrain: “Help is here.”
“These bills are popular, but not enough people have heard about them,” said Jessica Floyd, the president of American Bridge. “We can’t afford as Democrats to not be communicating and telling that story to voters.”
Selling the economic relief plan and tying it to Mr. Biden is critical for a Democratic Party still grappling with the consequences of the 2010 election, when Republicans rode a wave of anger with President Barack Obama to seize power in Congress and take control of many state governments, which allowed them to draw gerrymandered district lines to cement their majorities for a decade.
The American Bridge ad campaign is beginning in Arizona and Georgia, states where there are key Senate Democratic incumbents on the ballot next year, and will continue in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Republican-held seats are expected to be competitive.
“If you just look at history, midterms are not good for the party in power,” said Bradley Beychok, a senior adviser to the organization. “If we’re able to put some Teflon on Biden and tout his success and hopefully lay the groundwork, we’ll put better political terrain on the ground for people in ’22.”
American Bridge has become a landing spot for in-between-jobs Democratic officials. The group’s co-chairs now include Tom Perez, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who is weighing a run for Maryland governor; Steve Bullock, the former Montana governor who lost a 2020 Senate race in the state; Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor who was briefly a 2020 candidate for president; and Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood.
Danny Kazin, a longtime Democratic official who in 2020 worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has joined American Bridge to oversee its political advertising for the 2022 campaign cycle.
Georgia has sharply limited voting access, making drop boxes less available and forbidding anyone to hand out water to voters in line. Florida and Texas are poised to advance similar legislation. Alabama’s strict voter identification law is being used as a template elsewhere.
But Virginia is bolting in the opposite direction.
The Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, this week capped a multiyear liberal movement for greater ballot access by signing sweeping legislation to recreate pivotal elements of the federal Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in 2013.
Alone among the states of the former Confederacy, Virginia is increasingly encouraging its citizens — especially people of color — to exercise their rights. In the last 14 months, the state’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Mr. Northam have repealed the state’s voter ID law, enacted 45 days of no-excuse absentee voting, made Election Day a holiday and enacted automatic voter registration for anyone getting a state driver’s license.
Virginia, which for nearly 50 years had to get approval from the federal government for any election changes under the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements, has now, in an extraordinary move, effectively imposed the same covenants on itself.
The new law approved on Wednesday, called the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, requires all local elections administrators to receive public feedback or advance approval from the state’s attorney general for changes like moving voting precincts, and allows voters and the attorney general to sue over voter suppression.
“I have an aunt who marched against the poll tax. My grandparents both had to pay poll taxes,” said Marcia Price, a Democratic state delegate who sponsored the legislation. “Just knowing that they lived under a system that was unfair and unequal, I learned very early that it was wrong, and that it needs to be changed.”
Republican state legislators all opposed the measure, arguing that it would inundate local election administrators with lawsuits and complicate routine changes to voting.
Mr. Northam’s career was nearly derailed by a blackface scandal in 2019. Since then, he has been at the forefront of many of the state’s racial justice initiatives and has enjoyed high approval ratings.