Obama Shares Urgent Push For Voting Rights To Honor John Lewis


Democratic leaders have not abandoned the push to get new voting rights protections enacted at the federal level, despite recent setbacks. On Monday — the birthday of the late civil rights leader and Democratic Congressman John Lewis — former President Barack Obama posted an urgent push for what would by all appearances include voting rights on Twitter, asking observers to essentially keep the faith. As Obama phrased things:

‘John Lewis knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time. His life was a lesson in the fierce urgency of now. On his birthday, let’s honor his legacy by taking action and creating the change we hope to see in our own communities.’

Lewis and his legacy are closely tied to the ongoing effort to secure voting rights for all Americans — in Congress, one of the key pieces of voting rights legislation that has been under consideration is named after him. Called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, it would re-establish provisions for the federal review of certain changes to the electoral process before those changes’ implementation. The hope would be to stop at least certain instances of voter suppression before they even begin; rules along these lines were included in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before their essential undoing by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Electoral process changes that were covered by the original provisions included redistricting, meaning that this latest post-census redistricting process — with all of its cross-country concerns about Republicans manipulating developments for their own political advantages — has been unfolding without protections for voting rights that were previously there.

Under the previously intact Voting Rights Act rules, officials proposing certain changes — such as Republican leaders in GOP-controlled states like Texas — had the burden of proof in court proceedings challenging hypothetical rejections of their plans by federal officials. Now, plaintiffs such as the U.S. Justice Department seeking to challenge suppressive redistricting plans (or a related initiative) in court have the responsibility of proving their claims.

It appears as though Republican officials have taken advantage of the relative freedom provided by this new arrangement — in Texas, the state has enacted a new Congressional district map that hands two new districts to white majorities, although non-white residents are the ones responsible for the overwhelming majority of the population growth that allowed the state to obtain those districts. Even states that do not appear to have ever been fully subject to the pre-approval requirements of the Voting Rights Act have seen aggressively pro-Republican redistricting plans recently emerge. Kansas officials set a Congressional district map in motion that puts the state’s most racially and ethnically diverse county in two separate districts for the first time in decades, making it more difficult for those in the county to unite and substantively make their voices heard.