U.S. Rep. John Lewis, was the youngest and last surviving member of the Big Six civil rights activists who led the fight to end legalized segregation and overturn Jim Crow laws. He was arrested dozens of times and also beaten as a Freedom Rider. Alex Wong/Getty Images
If anything drove home the need to bring back the Voting Rights Act, it was the coverage of the life work of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon who passed away on July 17 after a battle with cancer. That is according to bipartisan senators who introduced a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday.
“John Lewis showed us the best of the human spirit, as he worked with hope in his heart to change America and bring liberty and justice for all,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin in a statement announcing the new piece of legislation designed to combat voter suppression.
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“It’s now up to all of us to carry on John’s spirit and continue his important work, including protecting and expanding the right to vote. After the Voting Rights Act was signed into law more than 50 years ago, we’re still seeing ongoing efforts to make it harder for Americans to vote. I am proud to join with my colleagues in the Senate to do right by John Lewis and work together to end voting discrimination so we can guarantee that all Americans have equal access to the polls.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), led the effort citing a quote from the late Lewis, who said voting was “the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” He noted that the House passed the companion bill in December, adding, “We cannot claim to honor the life of John Lewis if we refuse to carry on his life’s work.”
In asking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on the bipartisan bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, Baldwin and other senators pointed to the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder which gutted certain key voter protections and stopped the federal government from preventing discriminatory changes made by states as many “unleashed a torrent of voter suppression schemes that have systematically disenfranchised minority voters,” as Baldwin’s release described it. She pointed to the myriad voter suppression measures from limiting early voting to stringent voter ID requirements that are “patently discriminatory efforts to restrict access to the ballot box and undermine the progress and equality that John Lewis fought hard over the decades to achieve, from his time as a civil rights movement leader to his tenure in Congress.
Wisconsin, under former Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative control, passed some of the harshest voter suppression measures in the country.
Joining Senate Democrats and independents in cosponsoring the measure is Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
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