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MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript - Voting Rights


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MADDOW: Well, nobody wants to talk about it? All the other Republican senators standing there with him. Nobody. U.S. Supreme Court ruling today on the Voting Rights Act left in place the basic idea that some states, some counties, have sketchy enough records with regards to racial discrimination and elections that they should have to get preapproval from the Justice Department if they want to make changes to election laws.

But the court threw out existing lists of what those places are which means nobody needs to get preclearance anymore. Nobody is getting any scrutiny at all with changing their election laws until Congress manages to find a new way to figure out who ought to be on that list. With reins off Republican governors and state legislatures are already today, the day of the ruling, rolling out new round of ways to make voting harder in ways that are racially discriminatory enough that they could not have done them when the Voting Rights Act was still in effect yesterday. Joining us now is John Lewis, congressman of Georgia, one of the 13 original freedom riders and a civil rights activist who nearly died trying to secure every Americans` right to vote.

Congressman John Lewis, thank you so much for being with us.

LEWIS: Thank you very much, Rachel, for having me tonight.

MADDOW: You called this Supreme Court ruling a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act when you first heard about it today. Since then, have you heard anything from your colleagues in Washington that gives you any more hope about saving this law?

LEWIS: Several of my colleagues on the Democratic side have said that we must go back and reauthorize the act the same way that we did in 2006. And I did read a statement that the majority leader, Eric Cantor, made that because of his trip to Selma last March, that was moving to him, it had a profound impact on him, that he would take a serious look at the decision and whether we should reauthorize that section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

MADDOW: Do you agree that if Congress was able to act, maybe that showing of support from Congressman Cantor means that Republicans might be willing to do it, if Congress could act post-haste, could that limit the amount of damage that I know you think has been done to voting rights in the protection of minority voting rights in this country in particular by today`s ruling.

LEWIS: Well, I think it`s important for us to act now. If we fail to act, the hopes and dreams and aspiration of many people to participate in a Democratic process would be denied. So it is my hope that Democrats and Republicans members of the House that we would come together in a bipartisan fashion and fix it. Today, it is shocking, it`s unbelievable. It makes me so sad to see we have to fight this fight all over again. If somebody told me on August 6th, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law that we would be fighting this fight, this battle again in 2013.

MADDOW: What do you make of John Roberts` argent and the majority ruling in this case? Chief Justice Roberts arguing that essentially this laws a vestige of an earlier era, that the kind of discrimination that justified this type of remedy in the first place no longer require this kind of remedy? We need some different way of approaching these matters now, times have changed.

LEWIS: Well, the only thing I would have said to Justice Roberts if I had an opportunity to talk with him, I would say not to forget the past. Not to forget the history.

I would invite him and the other four members of the court to walk in my shoes, to travel with me through Alabama, through the delta of Mississippi, through southwest Georgia. And not just walk in my shoes, but walk in the shoes of others that stood in those unmovable lines. There`s some history there. We cannot forget that history.

As Justice Ginsburg said, if we tend to forget it, we will repeat it. In another period in our history, more than 100 years ago, people of color, African-American, former slaves, could register, they could vote. They ran for office. They got elected. And a few years later, they lost it. We cannot go back. We must go forward.

MADDOW: Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, thank you for your time tonight. I`m sure this has been just an emotionally exhausting day for you, sir. Thank you for being with us.

LEWIS: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you.


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