Press Releases

Washington D.C. — On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) was joined by House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (MA-05), House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (CA-33), Rep. James Clyburn (SC-06), Assistant Democratic Leader Joe Neguse (CO-02), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Deputy Chairman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) for a press conference on the 11th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. Rep. Sewell and her colleagues called on Congress to restore the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Watch it on YouTube here.

Rep. Sewell: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Congresswoman Terri Sewell. I proudly represent Alabama’s 7th Congressional District which includes the historic cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, and my hometown of Selma, Alabama.

I’m honored to be joined by House Democratic leadership team as well as members of the Tri-Caucus as we draw attention to the need for federal legislation to protect voting rights.

It was 11 years ago when the Supreme Court’s conservative majority gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eliminating voter protections and removing federal oversight from states with a proven track record of voter discrimination.

The consequences of the Shelby decision have been clear and devastating: long lines at the polling stations, strict ID requirements, closed polling stations in communities of color without notice, bans on early voting and absentee voting, and purging of voter rolls. The list goes on and on.

Since the Shelby decision, we have seen 31 states institute at least 103 new laws to restrict voting access, and it is no surprise that those laws disproportionately target Black and minority voters.

In my home state of Alabama, lawmakers have made it a felony to assist someone with an absentee ballot.

These laws may not be new. They are not new. They are part of a borrowed old playbook and they’re having devastating effects on African American communities and minority voters all across America. While Black voters may not need to count the number of jelly beans in a jar, modern-day barriers to voting are just as pernicious as the poll taxes and literacy tests of the past.

In the Shelby decision, the Supreme Court was clear that the onus was on Congress to come up with a modern-day formula to determine which states should be subject to federal oversight. Well, I’m proud to say that we have done just that, and we’ve called it after our beloved former colleague, John Lewis. 

Working together with our nation’s premiere civil rights and voting rights organizations, we have come up with a modern-day formula to ensure states and localities with a recent history of voter discrimination are prohibited from restricting voting access. We even named it after our former colleague, John Lewis.

The John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which we introduced for the fifth time in September, would protect the right of every American to vote. But despite our efforts, our colleagues across the aisle have continued to block us from even considering the bill.

The fact that the Voting Rights Act has become a partisan issue is frankly baffling to me. You see, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been reauthorized five times since 1965, and three times under Republican presidents. Most recently in 2006, George W. Bush signed the Voting Rights Reauthorization Act.

Yet instead of working with us to restore its protections, our Republican colleagues have instead chosen to spread disinformation and sow seeds of doubt about the integrity of our elections. We as elected officials should be working to ensure that all Americans are able to vote, instead of picking and choosing those who have access to the ballot box. 

You see, this fight is very personal to me. I grew up in Selma, Alabama, and representing that historic city and what happened on that bridge almost 60 years ago is very personal to me. We know that John Lewis was bludgeoned on a bridge for the equal right of all Americans to vote. We also know that it will be 60 years next year. 60 years after those Foot Soldiers were bludgeoned on the bridge, their cause has become our cause too. Who would’ve ever thought that progress would be so backwards that we would be having the same fight that they had 60 years ago?

You know, it was 60 years ago that they prayed, they protested, they bled, and some even died for the right to vote. It was their sacrifices that gave us the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And I dare say that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are crown jewels of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Movements.

Those Foot Soldiers were ordinary Americans who had the audacity to make this nation live up to its highest ideals of equality and justice for all. Their legacy, their legacy of courage and sacrifice, is what we stand on today.

Never did I think that the cause for which they sacrificed would become our cause. It goes to show that progress is elusive, and every generation must hold on to the progress of the past and try to work to advance it.

Our vote is our voice, and our democracy is strongest when every American is able to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

We are not asking anyone to put their lives on the line. We are simply asking that our Republican colleagues have the political courage to do what is right.

I want to thank my colleagues for joining me today and I’m honored to introduce our Democratic Whip, Katherine Clark.