This is how bad it’s gotten. This is how far Republicans will go to suppress the voices of minorities in America.
In the dead of night — at 10 pm last Wednesday — in the middle of a week in which the media was distracted by talk about same-sex marriage — Paul Broun (R-Athens, GA) attempted to neuter a vital part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act via an amendment that would deny the Justice Department any funding to review and supervise election-law changes in 16 states with a history of discriminatory voting laws and voting rights abuses.
Broun wasn’t proposing changes to the law, or alterations to the rules and regulations that govern voting rights. He simply proposed that the Justice Department be stripped of funds that would allow violations of voting rights to be examined and prosecuted. It’s akin to maintaining the illegality of murder, while eliminating the police department necessary to arrest murderers.
That’s how desperate Republicans are today.
Civil rights icon John Lewis (D-Atlanta, GA) rose to make an impassioned plea against Broun’s amendment. Go listen and watch. The moving and powerful speech is like something from the 1960s. For a United States Representative to have to make a speech like that, on the floor of Congress in 2012, is nothing short of shameful.
Lewis has the chops to make this plea. He was a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coördinating Committee (SNCC) and played a key role in the struggle for civil rights. His skull was fractured during a civil rights demonstration in Georgia in 1965. He has been a Representative for the state of Georgia since 1987.
His words on Wednesday night were simple and powerful:
It is shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime, one dollar to carry out the mandate of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” he said, his voice loud and trembling. “People died for the right to vote! Friends of mine, colleagues of mine! Speak out against this amendment — it doesn’t have a place.
He apparently shamed Broun into withdrawing his proposed amendment:
I have the same dream that Martin Luther King had where people are accepted for their character and not any discrimination against their skin or their forefathers or anything else, and any insinuation that I would ever believe in any kind of discrimination or trying to suppress anyone from having their constitutionally given rights, I would contest that accusation, frankly. … I apologize to any hurt feelings that anyone has, because I certainly wasn’t meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“Hurt feelings”? Really? This is not about “hurt feelings”. Broun’s protestations notwithstanding, it is about constitutional rights and the suppression of votes. That’s the purpose of the law — to prevent states with a history of discrimination from continuing their efforts to discriminate. And that was, incontestably, the target of his amendment.
It simply is not credible to pretend that Representative Broun didn’t intend to encourage violations of minority voting rights. One could argue that he was trying to save money, that the 1965 Voting Rights Act is no longer needed. If that’s the case, then he could have been upfront about it, and introduced a bill to eliminate the Voting Rights Act provisions. The only reason to cut the funding for enforcement of this law is to quietly allow discrimination and vote suppression to occur unhindered.
Why would a Republican want that to happen in 2012? There is a pattern of attempts at vote suppression throughout the country, new voter ID laws, changes in absentee voting and the hours and numbers of voting places. These changes amount to new forms of poll tax, designed to reduce the numbers of minorities, younger people, poor people, and the elderly who are able to vote. Representative Broun wanted to make it impossible for the Justice Department to contest these attempts at vote suppression.
If there has been a threat to democracy in our lifetimes, we’re witnessing it now. We’re fortunate to have people like John Lewis with the courage to stand up for America.
- Rep. Paul Broun Tries To Defund Voting Rights Act(thinkprogress.org)
- South Carolina sues Justice Department over voter ID laws(thegrio.com)
- GOP Rep. Broun Concealed Large Personal Loan(loans.org)
- Rep. John Lewis Speaks Out(point4counterpoint.wordpress.com)
- Justice Dept to Monitor Wisconsin Election to Assure Rights of Spanish Speaking Voters(hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Editorial: The Struggle for Voting Rights (nytimes.com)
- Civil rights icon shames Republican into dropping anti-voting rights measure (rawstory.com)
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson