Civil Rights legend John Lewis: Why we still need the Voting Rights Act

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Bloody_sundayRep. John Lewis (D-GA), is a legend of the Civil Rights Movement who was almost beaten to death by Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on "Bloody Sunday" (March 7, 1965), on the March from Selma to Motgomery, Alabama to secure the right to vote for African-American citizens.

The televised brutality of this attack galvanized the nation and led to the enactment of perhaps the single most historically significant and effective pieces of legislation in U.S. history, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This week, the Voting Rights Act is under attack from conservative organizations and Tea-Publican controled states (including an Amicus Brief of Arizona (.pdf) filed 1/2/13 by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne) under the old battle cry of "state's rights."

These conservative organizations and Tea-Publican controled states are appealing to the conservative activist court of Chief Justice John Roberts to disregard more than 15,000 pages of evidence and congressional testimony and the judgment of Congress, which overwhelming voted to renew the Voting Rights Act in 2006 (the fourth such renewal since 1965), by a margin of 390-22 in the House of Representatives and 98-0 in the Senate. This congressional judgement is entitled to due deference from the Court.

Rep. John Lewis pens an op-ed in the Washington Post today, Why we still need the Voting Rights Act (posted in full):

On “Bloody Sunday,” nearly 50 years ago, Hosea Williams and I led 600
peaceful, nonviolent protesters attempting to march from Selma to
Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in
Alabama. As we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we were attacked by
state troopers who tear-gassed, clubbed and whipped us and trampled us
with horses. I was hit in the head with a nightstick and suffered a
concussion on the bridge. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized that day.

In response, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights
Act and later signed it into law. We have come a great distance since
then, in large part thanks to the act, but efforts to undermine the
voting power of minorities did not end after 1965. They still persist
today.

This week the Supreme Court will hear one of the most important cases in our generation, Shelby County v. Holder. At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,
which requires all or parts of 16 “covered” states with long histories
and contemporary records of voting discrimination to seek approval from
the federal government for voting changes. The court is questioning
whether Section 5 remains a necessary remedy for ongoing discrimination.

In 2006, Congress debated this very question over 10 months. We
held 21 hearings, heard from more than 90 witnesses and reviewed more
than 15,000 pages of evidence. We analyzed voting patterns in and
outside the 16 covered jurisdictions. We considered four amendments on
the floor of the House; the Senate Judiciary Committee considered
several others.

After all of that, Congress came to a
near-unanimous conclusion: While some change has occurred, the places
with a legacy of long-standing, entrenched and state-sponsored voting
discrimination still have the most persistent, flagrant, contemporary
records of discrimination in this country. While the 16 jurisdictions
affected by Section 5 represent only 25 percent of the nation’s
population, they still represent more than 80 percent of the lawsuits
proving cases of voting discrimination.

It is ironic and almost
emblematic that the worst perpetrators are those seeking to be relieved
of the responsibilities of justice. Instead of accepting the ways our
society has changed and dealing with the implications of true democracy,
they would rather free themselves of oversight and the obligations of
equal justice.

Calera, a city in Shelby County, Ala., provides a
prime example. Once it was an all-white suburb of Birmingham. Rapid
growth created one majority-black district that in 2004 had the power,
for the first time, to elect a candidate of its choice to city
government, Ernest Montgomery.

Just before the 2008 election,
however, the city legislature redrew the boundaries to include three
white-majority districts in an effort to dilute the voting power of
black citizens. The Justice Department blocked the plan, but Calera held
the election anyway, and Montgomery was toppled from his seat.

In
2012, Section 5 was used to block Texas from implementing the most
restrictive voter law in the country, which threatened the rights of
more than 600,000 registered voters, predominantly Latinos and African
Americans.

Kilmichael, Miss., was blocked from canceling
elections shortly after the results of the 2000 Census demonstrated a
black-voting majority that could, for the first time, elect the
candidate of its choice.

Such cases are numerous and exemplify
the “unprecedented legislative record” amassed in 2006. That mountain of
evidence paved the way for a bipartisan majority in Congress to
reauthorize Section 5 by a vote of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in
the Senate.

Opponents of Section 5
complain of state expense, yet their only cost is the paper, postage
and manpower required to send copies of legislation to the federal
government for review, hardly a punishment.

But without Section 5,
guaranteed civil liberties of millions of voters could be flagrantly
denied, and those violations would remain in force and nearly unchecked
unless a lawsuit provided some eventual relief. The act also rewards
progress. In fact, every jurisdiction that has applied for bailout,
demonstrating a clean record over 10 years, has been freed from Section 5
compliance.

Evidence proves there are forces in this country
that willfully and intentionally trample on the voting rights of
millions of Americans. That is why every president and every Congress,
regardless of politics or party, has reauthorized Section 5.

The
right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a
democracy. I risked my life defending that right. Some died in the
struggle. If we are ever to actualize the true meaning of equality,
effective measures such as the Voting Rights Act are still a necessary
requirement of democracy.

Here is John Lewis speaking about voting rights at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.

"My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union." Lewis went on to describe the literacy tests and poll taxes that are now unconstitutional.

"Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials who are trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote . . . that's not right, that's not fair, and that is not just."

"I've seen this before. I've lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote. We have come too far together to ever turn back. So Democrats we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never ever before. We must come together and exercise our sacred right."

h/t web.library.emory.edu/blog/john-lewis-and-edmund-pettus-bridge for the graphic.

Comments are closed.