House approves Clyburn proposal to rename voting rights bill after John Lewis

The House on Monday approved a proposal from Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to rename legislation meant to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). 

The lower chamber passed the proposal to rename H.R. 4 the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act by unanimous consent. 

Lewis, who died at the age of 80 on July 17, played an instrumental role in the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act, which established greater protections for people registering to vote in the South. The bill was passed shortly after Lewis helped lead a group of protesters in the march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery as part of a push for greater voting rights. 

Lewis and other protesters were met at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by hundreds of Alabama state troopers. Officers wielding clubs beat demonstrators as they dispersed the crowd in what is historically known as “Bloody Sunday.” Lewis, 25 at the time, suffered a fractured skull after being beaten with a club by a state trooper. 

Scenes from that day shocked the nation and helped lead to then-President Lyndon Johnson signing greater voting protections into law. 

The House in December passed legislation aimed at restoring the law after the Supreme Court in 2013 invalidated a key part of it. The court’s decision freed up nine states to alter election laws without first getting approval from the federal government. Writing for the majority at the time, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said that the part of the law dictating federal oversight was not warranted given current conditions. He wrote that Congress should draft new legislation based on contemporary voter data. 

The House bill, which was spearhead by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), would again give federal agencies oversight power of certain state and local jurisdictions in an attempt to crack down on cases of voter suppression. 

Democratic leaders have for months pressed the Senate to take up the legislation, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far declined. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, he said that there was “very little tangible evidence of this whole voter-suppression nonsense that the Democrats are promoting.”

Following Lewis’s death, Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black person in Congress, said that McConnell and President Trump could honor the civil rights champion by passing the legislation. 

“I think Trump and the Senate leadership, Mitch McConnell … if they so celebrate the heroism of this man, then let’s go to work and pass that bill,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that the legislation should be called the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020. 

“That’s the way to do it. Words may be powerful, but deeds are lasting,” Clyburn said. 

His office did not respond to requests for further comment

The body of Lewis was carried by a horse-drawn caisson across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for a final time Sunday in a ceremony paying tribute to his march to that site 55 years ago. The longtime congressman is slated to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol later on Monday. 

Updated at 1:15 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump John Lewis Mitch McConnell Terri Sewell

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