Congress can honor the legacy of John Lewis with voting rights protections

Congress can honor the legacy of John Lewis with voting rights protections
© Greg Nash

This weekend, on the anniversary of the passing of Rep. John LewisJohn LewisManchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights House ethics panel decides against probe after Hank Johnson civil disobedience Constitutional rights are the exception MORE (D-Ga.), we remember an exceptional civil rights leader whose legacy is etched in our nation’s storied history of becoming a more perfect union. 

Lewis was a father, husband, congressman and a towering leader in our ongoing struggle for civil rights. His fearless spirit and tenacity called us to be better. And today, his fight is one we all have a responsibility to carry forward. 

John Lewis dedicated his life to "good trouble, necessary trouble" so that we may one day realize the full promise of America. An America where all people are treated equally. It was a cause he was willing to die for, and nearly did one Sunday back in 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In the months that followed what came to be known as Bloody Sunday, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

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The Voting Rights Act remains one of the most significant pieces of legislation enacted by Congress, and for decades helped to prevent racial discrimination in voting. It has also rightfully enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, having been reauthorized under the leadership of four Republican presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. When the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 2006, it was done so unanimously by the Senate. 

Recent challenges and Supreme Court decisions, however, have severely weakened the law and removed key components designed to prohibit voting discrimination. This year alone, hundreds of bills have been introduced by state lawmakers that would change voting laws, including provisions that could make it harder to vote. Some of these measures are misguided — and Congress should now follow in Lewis’ footsteps and do what’s right, especially now as partisan divides threaten to tear us apart.

It’s time to restore the original intent of the Voting Rights Act. As president, Abraham Lincoln observed that representative democracy is in a constant state of renewal and evolution. This process — the work of creating a more perfect union — is vital to ensuring that all citizens have an opportunity for their voices to be heard and represented in government. 

As former colleagues of Lewis, we agree that more must be done to protect the progress he fought for to ensure that the voices of all Americans are heard. Congress can do this by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore federal law that prevents voting discrimination. We hope Republicans and Democrats will join together to get this done, just as they have in the past.

Time and again over the course of our history, we are reminded that democracy is not guaranteed. It is a grand but fragile experiment that, in the wrong hands, can be neglected and diminished. 

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Today, America stands at a crossroads. The necessary task before us, to strengthen and build a more inclusive democracy, will reverberate for generations to come. That is the road we must take. With his memory and unwavering example lighting the way, let us embody the courage that Lewis demonstrated during his time on Earth and forge a new lasting legacy in his honor. 

Democrats and Republicans, it’s once again time for “good trouble, necessary trouble.” For the sake of our country and future leaders, we must turn the page hyper-partisanship and come together to get this done.

Tim Roemer is a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.

Zach Wamp is a former Republican congressman from Tennessee.

They currently serve as co-chairs of Issue One's ReFormers Caucus, the largest bipartisan group of former members of Congress, governors, and Cabinet secretaries ever assembled to advocate for political reform.