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Public Statements

Protect Fundamental Right to Vote

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, this month the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Shelby v. Holder, a case that challenges the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It is imperative that the Voting Rights Act be upheld in its entirety, for without it, a fundamental piece of our democracy will be out of reach for millions in this country.

Mr. Speaker, I stand here after two decades, and I'm supposed to be standing here representing a district that has been altered twice. But, Mr. Speaker, I stand here representing a district that has been altered three times--that many times--in this last two decades. As we saw in the recent election, discrimination on the basis of race is a persistent reality throughout many localities in States protected by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Without these protections, voters are at risk of losing their fundamental right to vote and to have that vote counted.

The Voting Rights Act provides a remedy to protect voters, either by addressing actual instances of discrimination or by preventing discrimination from happening in the first place.

Section 5 provides localities the opportunity to prove that they are fully committed to ensuring everyone has the right to vote, and sets out clear criteria for doing so. In this way, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act encourages localities to establish fair voting practices, but demands real proof of the progress.

I cannot tell you how many cases that come to the attention of the Justice Department, almost on a monthly basis, of discrimination in this area. The Constitution is unequivocally clear that the Congress has the authority to protect voters. That is why Congress spent so much time in 2006 reviewing all the data and hearing from all sides.

The 2006 reauthorization was recognition that discrimination still exists but that Congress has a responsibility to ensure that every voter must continue to exercise their right.

If every State would prove to the voters that they are willing not to discriminate, there would not be the need; but that has not happened. Even States not covered have had difficulty of allowing minorities to express themselves.

Now, I have been a victim of discrimination through redistricting and cracking and packing and every other technique that can happen in redistricting. Mr. Speaker, until we, in this country, can guarantee that voters will be handled fairly, there is no way that we should be talking about doing away with section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.


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