Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a key portion of the landmark Voting Rights Act, activists and those in states with a history of disenfranchisement at the polls are pinning their hopes on congressional action. But those hopes may be long deferred. A member of Congress who shed blood during the long march to civil rights told a Senate committee on Wednesday that he believes the Voting Rights Act “is needed now more than ever.” “The burden cannot be on those citizens whose rights were, or will be, violated. It is the duty of Congress to restore the life and soul to the Voting Rights Act,” said veteran congressman John Lewis. “The day of the Supreme Court decision broke my heart. It made me want to cry,” the Georgia Democrat told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He spoke of facing beatings while marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote and his pride in receiving a pen used by President Lyndon Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.
The testimony came during a week in which both Attorney General Eric Holder and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told African-American audiences that the right to vote must be safeguarded and urged congressional action in timely revision of the law.
President Barack Obama has expressed that he, too, is “deeply disappointed” in the ruling and wrote in a statement he was “calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”