Rep. John Lewis on the Mandate to Restore Voting Rights in America
Today during a news conference calling attention to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision that “gutted” the Voting Rights Act, Rep. John Lewis made the following statement:
“I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.
“There are forces in this country that want to keep American citizens from having a rightful say in the future of our nation. That’s why the VRA was gutted. We have to change that. We must change it and we will.
“Congress must change it. We have the power, and we must do all we can, on our own watch, in our own time to make sure the work of democracy continues in this country. I am deeply and very concerned about the future of our democracy. It seems like the lights are about to go out.
“We must have the capacity and the ability to redeem the soul of this nation and set it on the right course. We must do all we can to make this a nation where justice and the voice of the people prevails. Thank you.”
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was first passed in 1965 and was considered the crowning achievement of the Civil Rights era. Though African Americans had already been given the right to vote by the 14th and 15th Amendments, laws passed by state and local legislatures blocked them from participating.
The Voting Rights Act changed that by making grandfather clauses, poll taxes and other mechanisms of discrimination illegal. It ushered in millions of American citizens of all ethnicities and persuasions, including language minorities from Europe and other countries, to participate in the democratic process. It helped reshape America to become a more truly multi-ethnic society, a cornerstone of democracy. Many presidents—including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—as well as many members of Congress, including those of Asian and Latinx origin, owe their elections to the power and effectiveness of the VRA.
Opponents of the VRA, who were concerned that the voices of minority voters would lead to a more representative democracy, mounted several cases hoping to reach a packed Supreme Court intended upon neutralizing the power of the VRA. Despite compelling evidence that had garnered a nearly unanimous reauthorization of the act by Congress in 2006 power, the court determined the need for the VRA was mainly historic and that new terms should be developed by Congress to establish continuing need for the act.
Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, two states, Texas and North Carolina, imposed regressive and restrictive voting laws, one which one judge later said was designed “with surgical precision” to disenfranchise African Americans. Problems have ensued in states formerly covered by the act ever since. Georgia is the most notable example, in which the Secretary of State, legally responsible to manage elections, was also running for governor. Litigation is currently under way which alleges tactics were used, like the exact match program, malfunctioning of the voting apparatus in districts of color and other devices to win the election.
Today Rep. Lewis spoke out on the 6th anniversary of the Shelby decision to encourage Congress to use its power to restore the VRA to its original strength by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Taking action will help to make sure that every American citizen has equal access to the ballot box and a protected right to participate in the decisions that create America’s future.