Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), the Georgia lawmaker who once described the Civil War as the “Great War of Yankee Aggression,” offered an amendment to a spending bill at 10pm last night that would have stripped the Department of Justice of its ability to enforce Second Five of the Voting Rights Act. Section Five requires certain areas with a history of race discrimination to “pre-clear” its voting policies with DOJ or a federal court in order to ensure that those laws do not target minority voters, and it was the basis for a few recent DOJ decisions to block voter ID laws.
Fortunately, it soon became clear that Broun’s attack on voting rights lacked support after Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a hero of the Civil Rights Movement who still bears visible scars from when he was beaten by Alabama state troopers for marching in favor of voting rights, reminded the gathered lawmakers why we have a Voting Rights Act:
It is hard, and difficult, and almost unbelievable that any Member — but especially a Member from the state of Georgia — would come and offer such amendment. There’s a long history in our country, especially in the 11 states that are old Confederacy — from Virginia to Texas — of discrimination based on race, on color. Maybe some of us need to study a little contemporary history dealing with the question of voting rights.
Just think, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was almost impossible for many people in the state of Georgia, in the state of Alabama, in Virginia, in Texas, to register to vote, to participate in the democratic process. The state of Mississippi, for example, had a black voting age population of more than 450,000, and only about 16,000 were registered to vote. One county in Alabama, the country was more than 80 percent [black], and not a single registered African-American voter. People had to pass a so-called literacy test. . . . one man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. Another man was asked to count the number of jelly beans in a jar.
It’s shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime, one dollar, to carry out the mandate of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. . . . . People died for the right to vote. Friends of mine. Colleagues of mine. I speak out against this amendment. It doesn’t have a place.
Broun withdrew the amendment after Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) also chastised him for trying to sneak it into a late-night vote, rather than using the normal committee hearing process.