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Rep. Lewis on 51st Anniversary Of the Voting Rights Act

August 5, 2016
Press Release

"On August 6, 1965--51 years ago--I was looking over the shoulder of President Lyndon Johnson as he signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 into law. It was a crowning moment in the struggle for human dignity in this country that opened access to the ballot box for millions of Americans.

"It made the so-called literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other ploys used to block voting access illegal, but it also ultimately opened up the political process for other language and ethnic minorities to cast votes in every election. It also employed a very effective process that blocked discriminatory voting practices from becoming law.

"In the 50 years that followed, the VRA changed the shape of electoral politics in America, giving millions a voice in our society for the first time in our history. It was hailed as one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress had ever passed, but that all came to an end in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the VRA in the Shelby County v. Holder decision. The court invalidated the most powerful tool of the bill, the process that stopped new discriminatory practices from becoming law.

"The court decided this even though Chief Justice John Roberts admitted in his opinion that 'voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that...'  Almost immediately states which were anticipating the decision, including Texas and North Carolina, enacted some of the most restrictive voting changes in the country. Recently two courts of appeal struck down those changes made in Texas and North Carolina as overtly discriminatory, but dozens of states still have these changes on the books.

"This will be the first national election in this country in decades without the protection of the VRA. Congress must take action to defend millions of voters from the discrimination the court acknowledged still exists. There are two bills which have already been introduced in the House and the Senate. Both would fix the gaping holes left in the VRA by the Shelby decision.

"The vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool for change we have a democratic society. We need to return the VRA to its original effectiveness to ensure that every citizen has a say in the future of our democracy. "