15 May 2012
May 10th, 2012
Around 10 p.m. last night, as House debate over a contentious spending bill stretched on, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, approached with an amendment to end all funding for U.S. Department of Justice enforcement of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.
This is the provision that requires states like Georgia to submit new election laws – last year’s statewide redistricting, for instance — for federal approval to ensure against disenfranchisement of minorities.
Broun argued that this is a hammer held over only a few select states, and noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has suggested that the law has outlived its usefulness.
“It is also highly unfair, allowing some states to make changes to their election laws while other states wishing to make the same changes are forced to jump through a bunch of hoops,” Broun said. “I know firsthand how onerous this law is. My home state of Georgia, as an example, has long struggled with the U.S. Department of Justice over its voter identification laws.”
This did not sit well with Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta – a bona fide civil rights hero who was beaten during the Freedom Rides and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He arrived minutes later to give a rousing speech and a rare slap at a fellow member of the Georgia delegation.
Lewis called Broun’s suggestion “shameful.”
“Maybe some of us need to study a little contemporary history dealing with the question of voting rights,” Lewis said, telling of how African-Americans were once forced to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap or number of jelly beans in a jar in order to register to vote.
“People died for the right to vote – friends of mine, colleagues of mine,” Lewis said. “I speak out against this amendment.”
The amendment was also denounced by Republicans Frank Wolf of Virginia and Dan Lungren of California, who said there is a debate to be had over the Voting Rights Act – but it is something best hashed out in the courts and in committee hearings, not in a late-night amendment slipped into an appropriations bill.
Broun got the hint and withdrew his measure, assuring his colleagues that he intended no return to the bad ol’ days.
“I have the same dream that Martin Luther King had where people are accepted for their character and not any discrimination against their skin or their forefathers or anything else, and any insinuation that I would ever believe in any kind of discrimination or trying to suppress anyone from having their constitutionally given rights, I would contest that accusation, frankly. … I apologize to any hurt feelings that anyone has, because I certainly wasn’t meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings.”