Josh Gerstein noted a few months ago, “In a political system where even the most trivial issues trigger partisan rancor, the Voting Rights Act has stood for several decades as a rare point of bipartisan consensus. Until now.”
Quite right. The radicalization of the Republican Party has pushed GOP policymakers to extremes that would have been unthinkable up until very recently, and as hard as it is to believe, that includes new attempts to undermine the Voting Rights Act.
Yesterday, for example, Rep. Paul Broun, a right-wing Georgia Republican, pushed a measure to block Justice Department funding for enforcing part of the civil-rights era law. His Georgian colleague, Rep. John Lewis (D), a legendary leader of the civil rights movement, took some time on the House floor to explain that this isn’t acceptable. The two-minute clip is worth your time.
Lewis described it “almost unbelievable that any member, but especially a member from the state of Georgia,” would offer such an amendment. Defending the landmark legislation, and the systemic discrimination and voter-suppression tactics it helped overcome, the Democrat thundered, “People died for the right to vote! Friends of mine! Colleagues of mine!”
Lewis described Broun’s proposal as “shameful.” The far-right lawmaker, chastened, took the unusual step of withdrawing his own amendment before it could be voted on, though his office said Broun still “fully believes in the intent” of his idea.
I’m glad the Republican backed down, at least for now. But it doesn’t change the fact that Broun pushed the measure in the first place, and he’s one a growing number of right-wing GOP policymakers – in Congress and at the state level – who are openly hostile towards the Voting Rights Act. What’s more, this comes against a backdrop of systemic voter-suppression efforts unlike anything we’ve seen since Jim Crow laws, offering striking evidence of just how far Republicans are willing to go in the 21st century.
It’s heartening that John Lewis is there to fight for laws like the Voting Rights Act. It’s dejecting that he still has to fight for laws that were celebrated by both parties in the recent past.