To Honor John Lewis’s Legacy, the Senate Must Restore the Voting Rights Act

On August 6, 1965, Congress passed the seminal Voting Rights Act (the VRA) to end the widespread and systematic disenfranchisement of Black voters across the country. One of the crowning achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, it required states with a history of voting discrimination to “preclear” changes to their voting laws with the federal government. This allowed the VRA to prevent voter suppression before it could take place. 

In a 5-4 decision in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the VRA’s  protections were no longer needed, in part because the VRA had so effectively reduced voter disenfranchisement. Without preclearance safeguards, states across the nation, particularly states with a history of racist voting practices, enacted a wave of laws and policies to suppress the vote, unravelling decades of progress. This voter suppression did not affect Americans equally. Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous voters are disproportionately targeted by barriers to voting, like strict photo ID laws, reduced access to voter registration, and voter purges.

“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 Voting Rights Act was gutted. We have to change that. We must change it and we will.” – Representative John Lewis

Representative John Lewis, who passed away on July 17, 2020, was a giant in the Civil Rights Movement. As a young Black man living in the Jim Crow South, Lewis put his body and life on the line fighting for racial justice and voting rights — particularly when he led marchers over the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama to protest white resistance to voter registration during what became known as Bloody Sunday. 

Throughout his 30+ years in Congress, John Lewis championed voting rights and protections for all Americans and fought discrimination targeted at Black Americans. One of the best ways we can honor his legacy of activism and public service is by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA).

The House passed the VRAA in December 2019, yet Mitch McConnell has blocked the bill from reaching the Senate floor for over 240 days. Every day we see another election with long lines in Black and Brown communities or a new law to restrict access to the polls. We must pressure the Senate to pass this long overdue legislation.

As Barack Obama said during John Lewis’s funeral: “We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar to be able to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision — even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”

We’ve created a petition demanding that Congress make passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act a top priority after the November election. Add your name to tell your senators that it’s time to end this attack on our democracy and reinstate voting rights for all.