Voting Rights Act Turns 55 and Must be Restored in Honor of John Lewis

Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause

The right to vote is the very foundation of our democracy. Born of the horrible injustices and rampant voter suppression of the Jim Crow South, the Voting Rights Act, which turns 55 today, fully protected the right to vote for nearly five decades. That changed when the horribly misguided ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act. In the wake of that decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, voter suppression has flourished and Americans have been systematically stripped of their ability to cast a ballot in numbers not seen since the Jim Crow era.

It is time to stop that troubling and undemocratic trend and pass a new Voting Rights Act to protect the right of every American to cast a ballot and make their voice heard on Election Day. The House passed the bipartisan Voting Rights Advancement Act (HR 4) in December and it is time for the Senate to follow suit and pass this legislation to protect the franchise. The bill was renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, shortly after the death of the civil rights legend who spent his entire life fighting injustice. It would be a fitting legacy to Rep. Lewis to enact this legislation in his name.

Senators from both sides of the aisle issued statements singing the praises of John Lewis and his lifetime of tireless work to protect the right of every American to cast a ballot. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was effusive in his praise for Rep. Lewis though McConnell has refused to even allow a vote on H.R. 4. It is time for Senator McConnell and his caucus to allow this bipartisan legislation to move forward. If there was any sincerity in their statements on the death of John Lewis, if their praise was anything more than lip service, they must bring the bill to a vote. They know full well that today Americans are once again being denied the right to vote in huge numbers, in many cases because of the color of their skin. It is time to put a stop to this injustice and once again strengthen the Voting Right Act to protect the franchise as Congress did repeatedly and by overwhelming majorities from 1965 to 2006.