As the election draws closer and the race narrows, there are rising concerns about the integrity of the vote count. For one congressman, that means having more federal observers at polling stations come November. Rep. John Lewis, (D) of Georgia, brings a lifetime of commitment to voting rights to the 2016 election. He was a leader in the civil rights movement and later directed the Voter Education Program, which added 4 million minority voters to election rolls during his tenure. During a roundtable on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, he expressed concern about voter ID laws and decried what he described as, “a deliberate, persistent, systematic effort to make it … more difficult for the disabled, students, seniors, minorities, for poor and rural voters to participate in the democratic process.” Representative Lewis says that having federal election observers in Georgia, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and maybe other southern states would help prevent discrimination and intimidation. But a change to the Voting Rights Act means that the Justice Department no longer determines which states get election observers. Instead, a federal court has to rule that they are required.
In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that, to the joy of millions of African-Americans, Barack Obama redeemed by winning the presidency. As the youngest speaker at that March on Washington gathering, John Lewis identified another dream. It, too, has been redeemed by the American political system. But the blessing has been decidedly mixed. On that sweltering August day, Mr. Lewis, the 23-year-old champion of voting rights, lamented the absence of an unequivocal “party of principles” from the political scene. “The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland,” Mr. Lewis said. “The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater.”
In Alabama, without an ID, you can’t vote. Yet Governor Bentley’s administration announced plans this month to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including in every single county where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters. The closings would make getting driver’s licenses and personal identification cards much harder for many African Americans. That would make voting much harder, too. As many Alabamians have said in recent days, that’s just dead wrong. Governor Bentley is insisting that the closings had nothing to do with race, but the facts tell a different story. Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it’s hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago. The parallels are inescapable: Alabama is living through a blast from the Jim Crow past.
For most people, the 1963 March on Washington brings to mind the phrase “I have a dream.” Four simple words became the music that turned Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech into one of history’s greatest. But despite their elegance, they actually are not my favorite part of the speech. I love the beginning, where King defines the need for a civil rights movement in the first place. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King said. “. . . Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ “But,” King added, “we refuse to believe . . . that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” In this statement King speaks to the heart of black idealism and identifies the core of the American civil rights movement of the past 50 years. This vision of simple justice affirms that the rights and privileges of citizenship should not be reserved for some but should be available to all.
National: Nine Years Ago, Republicans Favored Voting Rights. What Happened? | Jim Rutenberg/The New York Times
On July 20, 2006, the United States Senate voted to renew the Voting Rights Act for 25 more years. The vote was unanimous, 98 to 0. That followed an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, which passed it by a vote of 390 to 33. President George Bush signed the renewal with apparent enthusiasm a few days later. This bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act — first enacted into law 50 years ago this month by Lyndon B. Johnson — was not unusual; indeed, it was the rule throughout most of the legislation’s history on Capitol Hill. And if you want to understand how dramatically Congress’s partisan landscape has changed in the Obama era, it’s a particularly useful example. As it happens, two bills introduced in the past two years would restore at least some of the act’s former strength, after the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, which significantly weakened it. And both are languishing, with no significant Republican support and no Republican leader willing to bring them to the floor for a vote. What was, less than a decade ago, an uncontroversial legislative no-brainer is now lost in the crevasse of our partisan divide.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the bill many historians regard as the most influential legislation passed by Congress in the last half-century. It transformed our nation by opening access to the ballot box to racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled, seniors, non-English speakers, poor and rural voters. On Aug. 6, 1965, our nation took a historic step by creating a more fair, more just democracy. Even though the 15th Amendment, enacted after the Civil War, established that the right to vote should not be “denied or abridged,” state and local laws often nullified that mandate. The participation of millions of Americans in any part of the electoral process was rendered nearly impossible. The journey to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the legislation that equalized voting access, took almost 100 more years. Throughout the struggle, foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement were told to wait and to be satisfied with slow, incremental change. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” the word “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'” And so civil rights advocates pushed ahead with courage against enormous odds — organizing, marching, standing day after day in unmovable lines trying to register. Hundreds went to jail in nonviolent protests, some shed blood, and others even died for the precious right to vote.
In late February 1965, during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and a few days after the shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson by Alabama State Troopers, a Marion civil rights activist named Lucy Foster suggested a response. “We should take his damn body and put it at the feet of Gov. (George) Wallace,” Foster told other civil rights leaders, according to Albert Turner Jr. That idea morphed into a more reasonable one: A Selma-to-Montgomery March, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and right up the Alabama Capitol steps, where protesters would demand that Wallace implement voting rights protections for all people, including blacks. That march became a national spectacle on March 7, 1965, when the protesters were met by state troopers just across the bridge in Selma and savagely beaten. It captivated the country, spurring President Lyndon Johnson to first offer the marchers protection on their journey to Montgomery and later to sign into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Democrats gathered on the steps of Congress in Washington D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, as they called on Republicans to restore a key mandate. “It was not this warm on March 7, 1965, when we attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery,” House Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said Thursday, referring to the historic “Bloody Sunday” Civil Rights march.
Last year, House Democrats saw ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a possible (if ultimately disappointing) ally in the fight to rewrite the Voting Rights Act for the 21st century. On Tuesday, Cantor’s leadership successor, Kevin McCarthy, might have revealed himself as another important potential friend to the effort. The California Republican echoed at a pen-and-pad briefing what fellow GOP lawmakers have said before: Any revision of the landmark 1965 law has to start in the Judiciary Committee — a disappointing answer for advocates who know Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., is disinclined to tackle the matter. But McCarthy later said he thinks the time has come for an “overall review.” “On a personal level, I’d like to see the debate go forward,” he said. “I’d like to see [us] have the debate in committee. I think everything, when it’s first written and where the world is today, has changed. So just as most of our bills, how do you modernize? An overall review, I think, it’s the right time to do it,” McCarthy continued. “What the outcome can be, I don’t prejudge.”
Editorials: Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed | Ari Berman/The Nation
Congress can’t agree on much these days, but on February 11, the House unanimously passed a resolution awarding the Congressional Gold Medal—the body’s highest honor—to the foot soldiers of the 1965 voting-rights movement in Selma, Alabama. The resolution was sponsored by Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s first black Congresswoman, who grew up in Selma. Sewell was born on January 1, 1965, a day before Martin Luther King Jr. arrived in Selma to kick off the demonstrations that would result in passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) eight months later. On February 15, 2015, Sewell returned to Selma, which she now represents, to honor the “unsung heroes” of the voting-rights movement at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, the red brick headquarters for Selma’s civil-rights activists in 1965, taking the pulpit where King once preached. The film Selma has brought renewed attention to the dramatic protests of 1965. Tens of thousands of people, including President Obama, will converge on the city on March 7, the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 marchers, including John Lewis, now a Congressman, were brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers.
Just one week away from the start of early voting, at least 42,000 residents who registered to vote still haven’t been given that right. Some applied as far back as April. “The Secretary of State is supposed to represent all the people — Democrats, Republicans, Independents, registered and unregistered voters alike,” Congressman John Lewis said Monday, during a press conference hosted by the New Georgia Project in Atlanta. “But it seems like the Secretary of State of Georgia has picked sides in this election. It seems he is not on the side of the people of this state.” Stacey Abrams, the Democratic party leader in the state House of Representatives, leads the New Georgia Project, an initiative that aims to register minority groups to vote. The initiative was successful in registering 86,000 new voters — but Abrams said the group can’t understand why half those new voters haven’t shown up on Georgia’s official list of registered voters, yet.
This week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will become Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. Taking the mantle in the middle of an election year, McCarthy does not want for front-burner issues to navigate on behalf of his caucus. There is one issue on which McCarthy undoubtedly must lead, and that is restoring voting rights protections in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the “coverage formula” which determines which states and jurisdictions with records of voting discrimination must preclear voting changes before they can be implemented. While acknowledging that voting discrimination still exists, the Court found that the formula did not address “current conditions” in voting. Since then, it has been an open season on access to voting in jurisdictions throughout the country. Restrictions on early voting, closed polling places, and the elimination of seats held by African-American and Latino incumbents in local districts have all been stepped up since the Shelby County decision. The mood is best understood by the exhilarated statement of the Florida Secretary of State days after the Supreme Court’s decision — “We’re free and clear now.”
House Democrats are amping up their pressure on GOP leaders to move on legislation to restore voting rights protections shot down by the Supreme Court last year. In a March 27 letter, Democratic leaders noted that the high court’s ruling “acknowledged the persistence of voter discrimination,” and they urged the Republicans to take up a bipartisan proposal, designed to counteract such prejudices, before November’s elections. “Some of us believe the bill should be enacted in its current form, and some of us would prefer to see it amended,” the Democrats wrote to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “But all of us stand united in our desire for the House to consider the issue in time for the entire Congress to work its will before the August district work period.” Spearheaded by Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, the letter was endorsed by 160 Democrats, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary panel, and Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the House dean. GOP leaders have not said if they’ll try to move legislation on the issue this year.
After two trips to the Deep South alongside civil rights icon and Georgia Democrat John Lewis, the pressure is on Eric Cantor to deliver on the Voting Rights Act. The majority leader has made a major, personal investment in connecting to the civil rights movement — something that ultimately could prove important for a GOP that regularly polls in the single digits among African-Americans and poorly among other minorities. But translating participation in the Faith and Politics Institute’s annual pilgrimage into legislative text that can win support from the bulk of the Republican Conference isn’t an easy task. And so far, Cantor hasn’t laid out a clear path for a bill nine months after declaring his support for a congressional response to the Supreme Court decision striking down the VRA’s core enforcement mechanisms. Democrats have signaled that they trust Cantor, a Virginia Republican, on this issue, and that the extent to which he is able to help advance a VRA fix depends largely on his ability to mobilize his flock, many of whom are hostile to the idea.
A senior Democrat on Tuesday said he was “hopeful” the House would approve new voting rights legislation by the summer, despite the lack of an endorsement from the Republican leadership. “We are very hopeful that we will pass a voting rights bill and do so in the near term, hopefully in the next couple of months,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during his weekly briefing with reporters. Hoyer over the weekend participated in an annual bipartisan pilgrimage to the South commemorating the civil rights movement. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also attended events on the trip, and Hoyer said he planned to meet with Cantor this week to discuss a legislative response to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Cantor has joined the pilgrimage with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights leader, for the past two years, but he has yet to take a position on a bill that Lewis wrote with GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.).
Congress leaned toward a breakthrough on Thursday, as elder statesmen from both parties agreed on a plan to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten during the Selma march for civil rights in 1965, joined Rep. John Conyers, first elected that same year, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the conservative author of the Patriot Act and a longtime backer of the Voting Rights Act. They offered the first legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the law last year. In June, the court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act because the law was not updated for current conditions. Chief Justice Roberts criticized Congress for using “40-year-old data” to patrol modern voter discrimination. That was peculiar logic, since most federal regulations sit on the books without updates. After all, laws aren’t iPhone apps. Their power comes from permanence, not a constant refinement. As Richard Posner, a respected appeals judge, explained in a critique of the ruling, “ordinarily… a federal statute is not invalidated on the ground that it’s dated.”
Democrats in both chambers are working behind the scenes to draft legislation to re-install the Voting Rights Act protections shot down by the Supreme Court over the summer. But in a sign of the delicate nature of the topic, Senate Democrats are taking care not to rush ahead of the House, for fear of sinking the bill’s chances in the GOP-controlled lower chamber. Instead, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is working with House Democrats and a small contingent of House Republicans – notably former Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), who championed the 2006 VRA reauthorization – in an effort to defuse the partisan politics surrounding the thorny issue and forge a bill that has the best chance of becoming law. “We’ve had hearings and now we’re just trying to quietly get some support, because I don’t want to bring up something that doesn’t go anywhere,” Leahy said Thursday.
During this week’s events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the fight for voting rights emerged as a central cause for the civil rights movement. In 1963, few blacks could vote in the states of the Old Confederacy. In 2013, there’s a black president, but the right to vote is under the most sustained attack—in the states and the courts—since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. At the official commemoration today, Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter voiced their dismay over the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the VRA and the rush to implement new voter suppression laws in seven Southern states since the ruling. “A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon,” said Clinton, referencing a Texas voter ID law that accepts a concealed carry permit, but not a student ID, to cast a ballot. “I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans,” said Carter. “I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress.” We must challenge “those who erect new barriers to the vote,” said Obama.
The golden anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech have appropriately fostered among a great many people unalloyed feelings of pride and nostalgia. Here was a moment of peaceful assembly, a mass redress of elemental grievances of the people, by the people, and for the people, that was capped off by one of the most memorable speeches in American history — one that has eerie relevance 50 years later. That day the meek raised their voices, sounding in the name of justice, and the rest of the nation listened. Soon there was a Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act. But as we look back closely on the events of late August 1963, we are reminded, too, of how those events were (or were not) covered by the journalists of that day. It’s easy to look back and glorify the events of August 28, 1963 — to see in speaker John Lewis, for example, a portrait of the hero he would become, 559 days later, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But that’s not necessarily how the March and the Speech were covered in real time. There was in 1963 a level of “false equivalence” in reporting on civil rights that, in the name of “objectivity,” equated black demands for racial equality with white concerns about getting there.
National: Voting rights a rallying cry at Martin Luther King march 50th anniversary event | The Hill
Senior Democrats and leaders of the civil rights and labor movements marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington by summoning a younger generation of activists to fight for a restoration of the Voting Rights Act to ensure universal access to the ballot box. As thousands ringed the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, speakers mixed themes of the past and present in paying tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech he delivered to combat racial discrimination. “Those days, for the most part, are gone, but we have another fight,” thundered Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights veteran and House Democrat who is the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. “There are forces who want to take us back. But we can’t go back.” Lewis and other leaders in the movement found a rallying cry in the June decision by the Supreme Court to strike down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, which has prompted states like Texas and North Carolina to move ahead with laws requiring voters to show photo identification. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us,” Lewis said. He urged the crowd to “make some noise” and “get in the way” to protect universal access to the polls. “The vote is precious,” he said. “It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in our democracy, and we have to use it.”
John Lewis was the 23-year-old son of Alabama sharecroppers and already a veteran of the civil rights movement when he came to the capital 50 years ago this month to deliver a fiery call for justice on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As we prepare to cover the anniversary of the march and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s beloved “I Have a Dream” address, we want to hear from people who were there. Mr. Lewis’s urgent cry — “We want our freedom, and we want it now!” — was eclipsed on the steps that day by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. But two years later, after Alabama State Police officers beat him and fractured his skull while he led a march in Selma, he was back in Washington to witness President Lyndon B. Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today Mr. Lewis is a congressman from Georgia and the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington in August 1963. His history makes him the closest thing to a moral voice in the divided Congress. At 73, he is still battling a half-century later. With the Voting Rights Act in jeopardy now that the Supreme Court has invalidated one of its central provisions, Mr. Lewis, a Democrat, is fighting an uphill battle to reauthorize it. He is using his stature as a civil rights icon to prod colleagues like the Republican leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, to get on board. He has also met with the mother of Trayvon Martin and compared his shooting to the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
House Democrats hoping to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) have an unlikely ally in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). While other GOP leaders have shown little enthusiasm for replacing the anti-discrimination protections the Supreme Court snipped this summer from the landmark civil rights law, Cantor is already talking to prominent Democrats about doing just that. “We’ve had a one-on-one; it went very well,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told The Hill last Friday, as Congress was leaving town for a five-week recess. Asked if Cantor is eyeing a legislative fix that would satisfy Democrats, Lewis didn’t hesitate. “Yes, yes, by all means,” he said.
Editorials: The Voting Rights Act Is in Peril on Its Forty-Eighth Anniversary | Ari Berman/The Nation
“Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield,” President Lyndon Johnson said on August 6, 1965, when he signed the Voting Rights Act into law. The VRA quickly became known as the most important piece of modern civil rights legislation and one of the most consequential laws ever passed by Congress. It led to the abolition of literacy tests and poll taxes; made possible the registration of millions of minority voters; forced states with a history of voting discrimination to clear electoral changes with the federal government to prevent future discrimination; and laid the foundation for generations of minority elected officials.
Congress took the first step Wednesday toward trying to repair a vital section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, a month after the Supreme Court ruled the provision unconstitutional. In a packed hearing room, witnesses told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Congress needs to put partisanship aside and work together to come up with a solution to fix the Section 4 formula, a linchpin of the act. “A bipartisan Congress and Republican presidents worked to reauthorize this law four times,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon, told the Senate committee. “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. And we must do it on our watch, at this time.”
Key lawmakers vowed Wednesday to ensure the full Voting Rights Act is restored to full strength, following the Supreme Court’s June decision to strike down part of the law. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the GOP negotiator of the law’s most recent reauthorization, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the high court decision “severely weakened the protections both Republicans and Democrats fought hard to preserve” and that he already is working on a response to deal with the new gaps in the law. “The Voting Rights Act is the most successful of all civil rights acts in actually limiting discrimination. We cannot afford to lose it now,” the former House Judiciary chairman said. “I’m working to pass a constitutional response to the Shelby v. Holder decision.” In front of his Senate colleagues, however, Sensenbrenner conceded the challenges he faces in the GOP-controlled House. When he pushed to reauthorize the legislation in 2006, it was in part because he feared that when he surrendered his gavel to caucus-imposed term limits, his successor would not work to re-up the law. “Sometimes the difference between [the House] and the Senate is the difference between here and the moon,” Sensenbrenner said.
Several Republicans spoke out against VRA reform today, but softly. Rep. Franks, who is known for his strident abortion views and opposition to the VRA, struck a respectful and bipartisan tone. He hailed John Lewis as a civil rights hero. He emphasized his openness to working with James Sensenbrenner, the most prominent Republican backer of the VRA. But Franks has not changed his mind. After the hearing, he told me that his “heart and mind is open,” but he doesn’t think VRA reform is necessary. He pointed to parts of the law that the Supreme Court didn’t strike down. And he said when he assesses racism in America, he looks to the Court’s standards, voter turnout in the South, and the “mechanisms of discrimination” that were used in the 1960s. “I don’t know all of the suppression that existed at the time,” he volunteered, but still, Franks said he believes under current precedent, DOJ no longer needs to oversee local voting in advance. Several witnesses and Democratic members marshaled data showing the persistence of voter discrimination today, and the need for the VRA’s supervision. But just as Senate Democrats muddled their focus at yesterday’s hearing, some House Democrats hit on themes that are unlikely to recruit GOP support. (Rick Hasen, an election law expert, has more on that point.)
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were mostly no-shows at Wednesday’s high-profile hearing on restoring a portion of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court last month. The Republicans chalked up their absence to scheduling confusion. With a brief appearance, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the only Republican to join Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and a packed room to hear testimony about updating formulas in the 1965 law that required jurisdictions in 15 states to clear changes to voting procedures with the Justice Department. “I actually was asking my staff, I think that may have been an oversight,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who sits on the committee, said. “I think that might have been an oversight because I had other scheduling, other matters scheduled.”
Two powerful Democrats are poised to urge President Obama to resuscitate a defunct federal panel created to help Americans vote. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) are preparing a resolution calling on the president to fill the vacancies on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Hoyer said Tuesday. The four-seat board has been empty for more than a year, largely because GOP leaders — wary of Washington’s role in state-run elections — have refused to recommend nominees to fill the spots, as current law dictates. That’s a mistake, Hoyer said, particularly in a political environment where an increasing number of states have made it tougher to vote in the name of fighting fraud. “The Election Assistance Commission was established to provide advice and council on best practices on elections. It has been allowed to atrophy, and the Republicans want to eliminate it,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. “It’s interesting but disappointing.”
The Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 legislation that protects against racially discriminatory voting practices, had long received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, including for the last renewal of its temporary provisions in 2006. But at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, early discussions on how to respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down Section 4 of the law saw Democrats and Republicans mostly divided over the provision’s utility and future. While several Democrats chided the Supreme Court for undermining the country’s most effective protection against voting discrimination, even as the court acknowledged that the problem still existed, Republicans suggested that policies were outdated and that the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act remained essentially unchanged.
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.