The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 154 other civil rights organizations this week called on members of Congress to swiftly pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R. 4. The bill was recently reintroduced as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, as well as the HEROES Act, H.R. 6800, which contains essential funding for states to hold safe elections during the pandemic.
Enacting these critical legislative measures would protect the integrity of the November election and counter the historical disenfranchisement of communities of color and voters with disabilities in America.
The last of “The Big Six,” Lewis died July 17 after decades of fighting for the civil rights of Blacks and minorities in America. On Sunday, a horse drawn wagon carried Lewis’ casket across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It was Lewis’ final journey over the historic bridge, where he led a historic march that saw dozens of Blacks beaten by state troopers in 1965 during “Bloody Sunday.” The event was broadcast on national television and sped up the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the heart of the Voting Rights Act, freeing nine states to change their election laws. Texas immediately enacted a voter identification law that had been blocked and planned to redraw political districts without federal approval. The moves were one of several that led civil rights leaders to grow concerned that the voting rights of Blacks had been rolled back and that the future of minorities was in jeopardy. Lewis was among those who remained outspoken after the Supreme Court decision.
In Alabama, Lewis’ funeral procession traveled through Montgomery, where it passed the Rosa Parks Museum and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church before arriving at the Alabama State Capitol. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his career as a preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the church’s basement.
On Monday and Tuesday, thousands paid their final respects as Lewis lay in state in his flag draped casket under the Rotunda in the U.S Capitol and the East Plaza. Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol building.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill visited the Capitol Monday to honor the Congressman from Atlanta. President Donald Trump drew heavy criticism after he said that he would not visit the Capitol to pay his final respects. The two had a frosty relationship in Washington. In 2017, Trump on Twitter accused Lewis of being a Congressman of “all talk…no action or results.” Earlier that year, Lewis boycotted Trump’s presidential inauguration.
As U.S. House Representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, Lewis was reelected nine times and became the “Conscience of Congress.” On Thursday, Lewis’ funeral was held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary to cap six days of official memorial services for the prominent congressman.
“To honor the legacy of John Lewis, the Senate must promptly conduct hearings on the Voting Rights Advancement Act and build an appropriate evidentiary record to buttress this legislation, and then bring it up for a vote. The House has done its part – conducting extensive hearings last year and amassing significant evidence of ongoing voter discrimination in America – and now it is time for the Senate to follow suit,” the groups wrote.
“In addition, the Senate must honor the memory of John Lewis by passing the election provisions of the HEROES Act. This legislation would provide necessary funding of $3.6 billion to states for election assistance as well as vital voting rights reforms that were based on Representative Lewis’ Voter Empowerment Act – such as no-excuse absentee ballots, at least 15 days of in-person early voting, accessible online and same-day voter registration, and equal access for voters with disabilities – that are essential to help this nation safeguard the November 2020 election. Once again, the House has done its part – passing the HEROES Act over two months ago – and now the Senate must act.”