Civil rights icon Lewis: Justices don't know discrimination

The Supreme Court's decision to gut the Voting Rights Act is “a dagger” into the protections of minorities, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) charged Tuesday.

Lewis, a hero of America's civil rights movement who was hospitalized after the infamous "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, Ala., characterized the 1965 law as among the most effective statutes of the last half-century.

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In a personal turn, he suggested that the conservative justices who passed down Tuesday’s ruling would have decided differently had they ever experienced discrimination themselves.

“These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs,” Lewis said in a statement. “No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights.”

The 5-4 decision on Tuesday struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, under which a number of states with a history of racial discrimination must have Washington's approval before altering their voting procedures.

Behind Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court's conservative majority found that the formula dictating which states are subject to the extra hurdles is outdated and therefore unconstitutional. The Court invited Congress to “draft another formula based on current conditions.”

“Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices,” Roberts wrote. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

Lewis, who was beaten during the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., was quick to take exception to that argument.

“I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today,” Lewis said. “The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as 'pervasive, widespread or rampant' as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.”

Tuesday's decision drew immediate calls from Democratic leaders — including President Obama — for Congress to update the law to ensure all voters have access to the polls.