|Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), speaking on the importance of upholding voting rights and expanding the influence of organized labor, at the 2013 IAM National Staff Conference. (Credit: Ron Sherman)|
John Lewis has been fighting for voting rights for over half a century. A fractured skull and scars from beatings at the hands of police and white segregationists in the 1960s prove it.
Now in his 14th term as a Democratic congressman for Georgia’s 5th District, a Supreme Court case is making Lewis recall his days as an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Click here to read a profile on Lewis in The Nation.
The country’s highest court is expected to make a ruling this month on an important provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Lewis calls Section 5 of the VRA, which requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination to clear new voting regulations with the federal government, the “heart and soul” of the law.
He almost wept when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia called Section 5 a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
“So what happened to the 14th and 15th Amendments?” Lewis asked. “What happened to the whole struggle to make it possible in the 20th century, and now the 21st, for every person to be able to cast a free and open vote?”
Lewis, who has become known as “the conscience of Congress,” is again at the forefront of protecting the VRA. This will be the fifth time Section 5 has been challenged in the Supreme Court; it’s been upheld four times prior. But now the political climate is as open to restricting voting rights as it was before the Civil Rights Movement – more than a dozen states have adopted new laws to control access to the ballot since the 2010 midterm elections, many of them disproportionally affecting African Americans.
“We must not step backward to another dark period in our history,” said Lewis. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.”