Biden honors Selma march, sees ‘new fight’ over voting rights

Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday paid tribute to protesters who took part in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. and vowed that the administration would be vigilant in the “new fight” for voting rights.

The vice president spoke at a ceremony to commemorate the march, telling those in attendance that he wished he had joined the protesters.

“I'm here because I know 47 years ago I should have been here,” Biden said in a speech at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch at Wallace Community College, according to reports. “It's one of the regrets that I have and many in my generation have.”

The vice president later led the ceremonial march across Edmund Pettus Bridge, alongside civil right activist Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

The annual crossing is held in March of every year to commemorate “Bloody Sunday,” the 1965 march where protesters where badly beaten by state troopers with clubs. Images of the violence helped boost support for passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. 

"There's courage and there is courage,” said Biden. “There's a different kind of courage to stand there and face someone with a club in their hand. There's the courage to look evil in the eye, fight against it, never give up.”

Biden said that while there had been progress since the march, the work of the civil rights movement had not ended. 

He said that during last year’s presidential election many states had again passed new laws to restrict voting rights and expressed dismay that the Voting Rights At was being challenged in the Supreme Court. 

“Forty-eight years after all that you did, and we are still fighting in 2011, '12 and '13,” said Biden.

"What you all did here 48 years ago changed the hearts and the minds of the vast majority of the American people. That's why I am absolutely convinced we will win in this new fight in regard to voter access and voting rights," he added.

At the ceremony in Selma, Biden was joined by civil rights activists who argued that the law was still need to fight discrimination. 

“We are one vote away from oblivion,” said the Rev. Jessie Jackson. “We are one vote away this morning from the Voting Rights Act being undermined yet again.”

Last week, the Supreme Court held hearings on the constitutionality of the law, with the five conservative justices hinting that they were considering striking down Section 5, which bars states, primarily in the south, from changing voting procedures without prior federal approval. 

Democrats have urged the court to uphold the law, pointing to a number of issues from the 2012 election, including long lines at many polls and a number of state early-voting and voter ISD restrictions. 

While Congress has reauthorized the act several times, most recently in 2006, critics say that the law has not changed the criteria for determining which states must comply with the legislation and that many of the rules are outdated.

The court is expected to rule on the case later this summer.