KENNEDY AND BI-PARTISAN GROUP OF HOUSE, SENATE COLLEAGUES CALL FOR VOTING RIGHTS ACT EXTENSION
Washington, D.C -- Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans including Senators Reid, Frist, Specter, Leahy, Obama, Salazar and Representatives Hastert, Pelosi, Lewis, Sensenbrenner, Conyers, Watt, Chabot, and Nadler. Together, this bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators called for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act for 25 more years. Chairman Sensenbrenner introduced the bill in the House today.
"The issue is basic fairness. The nation must ensure that discrimination and its bitter legacy do not close the polls to any citizen," said Senator Kennedy, "This issue transcends party lines, as is clear from the bipartisan, House and Senate support for the bill we introduce today to guarantee that the right to vote is not denied to any American because of race, national origin or proficiency in English."
Senator Kennedy believes one of the most important struggles of the twentieth century was the struggle to ensure the right to vote for every American, regardless of race, national origin, or proficiency in English. For most of the nation's history, the right to vote was shamefully denied to large numbers of our population because of the color of their skin. The Act's temporary provisions have been vital to its success -- requiring certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain advance clearance for voting changes in their laws, providing needed language assistance to citizens whose proficiency in English is too limited to allow them to vote with confidence, and sending federal personnel into the field to monitor elections in areas where voting discrimination is likely. Kennedy believes that although we have made great progress since 1965, we're still far from an America in which these safeguards are no longer necessary.
Below are Senator Kennedy's remarks today as prepared for delivery:
Remarks on Introduction of the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization Bill (As Prepared for Delivery)
Forty years ago last summer, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to protect the most basic rights in our democratic society -- the right to vote. Martin Luther King called it "civil right number one." In 1982, when we came together again to reauthorize the Act, we placed a sunset on some of its most critical provisions, in the hope that they would eventually no longer be necessary. Unfortunately, the expiring provisions are still as urgently needed today as they were in 1982. Again and again, we hear reports of shameful tactics to deny certain Americans the right to vote.
The issue is basic fairness. The nation must ensure that discrimination and its bitter legacy do not close the polls to any citizen. This issue transcends party lines, as is clear from the bipartisan, House and Senate support for the bill we introduce today to guarantee that the right to vote is not denied to any American because of race, national origin or proficiency in English.
I'm proud to join my distinguished colleagues in both the House and the Senate, including the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, in this important step to protect voting rights. Many of the bill's co-sponsors have been instrumental in keeping the Voting Rights Act strong in the past.
Congressman John Lewis was one of many unsung heroes who risked their lives during the Civil Rights Movement to achieve the bill's passage. Their shining example made it possible for Congress to pass the original bill in 1965. In the House, Congressman Sensenbrenner was indispensable to the Act's reauthorization in 1982, as was Representative Conyers. In the Senate, Senators Specter and Leahy were key supporters of the 1982 reauthorization, as were many others in both Houses who are here today.
This bipartisan, bicameral bill to protect Americans' most basic rights truly reflects Congress at its best, and I'm honored to join in this effort.