Former Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Wednesday that Congressional Democrats are planning new legislation to render ineffective Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision on Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the historic 1965 legislation that guaranteed equal access to the vote for all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity. According to The Hill, Pelosi is already considering naming the prospective bill after civil rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis (D).
“It’s really a step backward, and it’s not a reflection of what’s really happening in our country in some of these places,” Pelosi said of Tuesday’s decision, in which a 5-to-4 majority ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4 established a metric for states that have discriminated racially in the past, qualifying them for Section 5, which mandates that these states receive clearance from the federal government before making changes to election law.
“I would like to see something…called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” she continued, saying that Congress could follow Chief Justice Roberts’ recommendation and re-write Section 4’s criteria.
Democrats would be joined in that effort by at least three Republican congressman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), who was instrumental to the push to get the VRA renewed in 2006, has pledged to push back against the decision.
“The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process,” Senenbrenner said to The Hill. “This is going to take time, and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected.”
Reps. Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Sean Duffy (R-WI) have thrown their support behind Sensenbrenner, but Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have declined to support the effort.
“We are reviewing this decision,” Boehner said at a Capitol press conference Wednesday.
Rep. John Lewis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Montgomery, Alabama to Selma, where he and other marchers were brutally beaten by Alabama State Troopers on the day known as Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. Lewis was beaten nearly to death that day, an experience he recounted before a Congressional hearing a week later.
“I was hit with a billy club, and I saw the State Trooper that hit me,” Lewis told Congress. “I was hit twice, once when I was lying down and was attempting to get up.”
“The Troopers kept saying, ‘Move back, you ni**ers, disperse!'” he said. “and calling people black bitches and sons of bitches and things like that.”
When the marchers knelt in prayer as a show of passive resistance, the State Troopers lobbed tear gas grenades at them.
“People became sick and started vomiting,” Lewis reported. “Some of us were forced off the highway and behind some buildings in the woods.”
Lewis was elected to Congress 22 years later in 1987, as the representative from Georgia’s 5th District.
[Image of Reps. Lewis and Pelosi via Talk Radio News Service’s Flickr Photostream, Creative Commons Licensed]