The GOP campaign to roll back voting rights for minority voters reached a new low this past week with a proposal by Tea Party favorite Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) to cut off funds for enforcement of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The defunding proposal targeted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires the U.S. Justice Department to supervise and approve any changes to election laws in Georgia and six other states that have a history of discrimination. Defending his amendment, Broun argued the voting rights oversight was unfair, antiquated and unnecessary. Ignoring new voter ID laws designed to further restrict access to the polls, Broun said, “It’s time for us to go to what the Constitution says is the way we should all be treated: equal under the law.”
Broun’s proposed amendment drew a scathing rebuke from Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull during a 1965 voting rights march. “It is hard and difficult and almost unbelievable that any member, but especially a member from the state of Georgia, would come and offer such an amendment. 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. People died for the right to vote — friends of mine, colleagues of mine!” said Lewis, his voice rising in outrage.
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The late night debate on the House floor continued, with Republicans voicing tepid support but sensing that Broun’s attempt to roll back the historic law would become a political misstep of grand proportions. In the end, Broun apologized “for any hurt feelings anyone has.” But as the New York Times noted in a lead editorial, the issue is bigger than hurt feelings; “Mr. Broun owes an apology to history.”