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Civil rights icon shames Republican into dropping anti-voting rights measure

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, May 11, 2012 11:54 EDT
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Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) speaking out against a Republican measure that would de-fund the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Screenshot via C-SPAN.
 
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Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) learned a lesson in humility on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday night.

Reacting to an amendment proposed by Broun that would withhold funding for the enforcement of a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who actually marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others during the civil rights movement, said that Broun’s move was “almost unbelievable.”

“Under [the Voting Rights Act], seven states in the south, as well as Arizona, Texas and a number of counties scattered across the country, are required to receive federal preclearance to every change they make in election laws,” Broun said. “The provision stipulates that only changes to election law in those covered locations, which are shown to be non-discriminatory, may be precleared. Unfortunately, the burden of proving that a change is non-discriminatory is on the state or locality which wishes to make the change.”

He added that the law, signed by President Lyndon Johnson (D), essentially assumes the guilt of southern states, making it an “onerous” burden and an “antiquated provision.” “My home state of Georgia, as an example, has long struggled with the U.S. Department of Justice over its identification laws,” Broun said, claiming his home state is “being discriminated against.”

Lewis’s response to that assertion was fiery, to say the least.

“Maybe some of us need to study a little contemporary history dealing with the question of voting rights. Just think, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was almost impossible for many people in the state of Georgia, in Alabama, in Virginia, in Texas, to register to vote, to participate in the democratic process. The state of Mississippi, for example, had a black voting-age population of more than 450,000, and only about 16,000 were registered to vote. One county in Alabama, there was more than 80 percent not a single registered African-American voter.”

“It’s shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime, one dollar to carry out the mandate of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “We should be opening up the political process, letting all our citizens come in and participate. People died for the right to vote! Friends of mine, colleagues of mine! I speak out against this amendment. It doesn’t have a place. This is not the place.”

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) rose next to agree with Lewis, lecturing other members that “both Democrats and Republicans throughout history have used race to try to draw congressional districts and legislative districts,” and citing currently ongoing disputes over voting maps in New Mexico and Texas.

Soon thereafter, Broun then withdrew his amendment and apologized.

“I have the same dream that Martin Luther King had where people are accepted for their character and not any discrimination against their skin or their forefathers or anything else, and any insinuation that I would ever believe in any kind of discrimination or trying to suppress anyone from having their constitutionally given rights, I would contest that accusation, frankly,” he said. “I apologize to any hurt feelings that anyone has, because I certainly wasn’t meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

This video was broadcast by C-SPAN on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.

This video was broadcast by C-SPAN on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.

(H/T: The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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