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CBC Hour: Voting Rights Act, Section 5

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HOYER. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, Steve and I were both in the senate, and you have a president in the senate. That's why he was referring to you as Mr. President. I understand that, Steve.

I am pleased to join Marcia Fudge, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and my good friend, Steve Horsford, the gentleman from Nevada. And I notice that Don Payne is here. His father was a very close friend of mine, active some 45 years ago. So it's good to see you here, Don, and Hakeem Jeffries, two of our really great new Members. I'm pleased to join you.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Congressional Black Caucus for organizing this Special Order hour. America's greatest strength--and its greatest gift to the world--is our democratic system of government based on an equal voice for every citizen. It is what grants legitimacy to our laws and earns us respect from those in other parts of the world who yearn for the freedoms we enjoy.

For most of our history, our democracy was deeply flawed: excluding women, African Americans, Native Americans and many others. But part of what makes America great is that we are constantly working to perfect our democracy by correcting such flaws. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a central part of that effort--and an incredibly successful one. Before that legislation was enacted, millions of African Americans were systematically prevented from registering to vote or casting their ballots across much of the South. And I would venture to say that there were other parts of America where they were dissuaded from voting, as well. Poll taxes, ``grandfather clauses,'' literacy tests and other nefarious devices were employed to keep Americans from exercising their most fundamental civil right.

Perhaps the greatest impetus for enacting the Voting Rights Act was the horrific violence and hatred of ``Bloody Sunday,'' when peaceful civil rights marchers were beaten and turned back at the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma, Alabama.

Mr. Speaker, this weekend, a number of us here will be traveling to Selma, led by the same man who helped organize those 1965 marches, our friend and colleague, Representative John Lewis, an extraordinary historic figure, an extraordinary gentle man, but a giant of courage and principle. We are going as part of an annual pilgrimage to remember that day, ``Bloody Sunday,'' March 7, 1965, and the cause for which those brave Americans, black and white, risked their lives: political equality and the perfection of our democracy.

Mr. Speaker, I've been privileged to walk with John Lewis across that bridge and others, including at least two Presidents, for 10 out of the 13 times that John Lewis has reenacted that walk. Walking in their footsteps is one way to honor that cause. But it is far from the best way. The best way to do it is to carry on their work--to defend and promote the protections included in the Voting Rights Act that they fought so hard to bring about.

On Wednesday, Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, which challenges the constitutionality of one of the Voting Rights Act's central provisions, and that is pre-clearance, making sure that the Justice Department says, yes, this is fair; yes, this will not exclude; yes, this is a policy that will be consistent with our democracy. Pre-clearance, established by section 5 of the act, mandates that jurisdictions with a long history of voter suppression and civil rights violations must submit to the Justice Department for approval any plans to change their election practices or district boundaries before doing so. Section 5 has been instrumental in ending discrimination and protecting eligible voters at the polls. Its constitutionality is rooted in article I and has been working as intended for nearly half a century.

At a time when we are hearing about problems voters faced all over the country in last November's election--with long lines, registration errors, voting machines that malfunctioned and deceptive practices--we ought to be working together to make the Voting Rights Act stronger, not weaker.

I will continue, along with my colleagues, to stand up for the Voting Rights Act on this floor and in every forum of debate. Because those who marched at Selma or braved the dangers of the freedom rides did not do so in vain. Their legacy is our responsibility. The more perfect democracy they helped forge is ours to safeguard, not only for our sake, but for the sake of those who will inherit our democracy in generations to come.

So, Mr. Speaker, I'm proud to join my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus in strong support of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act--and the rest of it as well--as it faces meritless challenges this week that I am confident will be surmounted.

And, again, in closing my part of this Special Order, I want to congratulate Steve Horsford, Congressman Horsford, from Nevada. He's new to this body, but he's not new to legislative representation. He understands the legislative process very, very well; and it is appropriate that in one of his first Special Orders on this floor that it's on behalf of every American--not just black Americans, not just Hispanic Americans and not just disabled Americans--every American. Because if one American's right to vote is compromised, there will be a risk to all Americans that their vote will be compromised. And I thank my friend, Congressman Horsford.

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