Whip Hoyer Remarks at Voting Rights Conference

For Immediate Release:

February 25, 2014

Contact:

Stephanie Young, 202-225-3130

WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks this afternoon at the "50 Years On: A Defining Moment for Voting Rights" conference sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the National Urban League (NUL), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), in partnership with the National Council of Churches.  Whip Hoyer was introduced by Robert Lapin, the AJC National Policy Committee Vice Chair.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery: 

“Good morning, and thank you, Bobby, for that kind introduction.

“I am so glad to be here with you to talk about how far we have come along the journey to secure equal voting rights for all Americans – and to rededicate ourselves to the important work of carrying that journey forward.

“We could not have achieved the victories of the last fifty years if it had not been for the dedicated efforts of civil rights organizations like the American Jewish Committee, NALEO, the National Urban League, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. 

“Not only have your groups organized marches, held rallies, and hosted educational programs, you have also painted a portrait of cooperation among communities united behind the common goal of a more perfect union. You have done so because your members recognize that our democratic system of government is America’s greatest strength. An equal voice for every citizen – this must always be the foundation of our democracy.

“For too long our country did not live up to this promise, and it took several generations of bitter struggle to take Jefferson’s words about equality and unalienable rights and make certain they are reflected in our way of life.

“Fifty years ago, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act, our nation ended legal segregation and discrimination that denied our African American citizens their equal voice in our democracy – and fulfilled the spirit of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. But even today we continue to face the challenges of intolerance, unequal access to economic opportunity, and – yes – a renewed effort in some states to undo the voting rights protections that have achieved so much good. 

“Before the Voting Rights Act was passed, millions of African Americans encountered systematic discrimination in registering to vote and casting their ballots across much of the south, disenfranchising an entire segment of American society. Literacy tests, poll taxes, ‘grandfather clauses,’ and other discriminatory and exclusionary devices were used to prevent some American citizens from exercising their most basic civil right.

“A turning point in the battle for voting rights was the horrific violence and hatred of ‘Bloody Sunday,’ when peaceful marchers were beaten and turned back at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  They responded by organizing an even larger march, whose participants – black, white, Latino, Christian, and Jewish – would not be silenced as they demanded an end to the injustices that stood between millions and the ballot box.

“Next month, as I have done for many years now, I will join civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, other Members of Congress, members of a number of faith communities, and others committed to equal justice under the law as we recreate that march in Selma.  We have done so in years past in part to send a message of support for the Voting Rights Act that secured access to the ballot for all Americans eligible to vote. But this year our mission is larger.

“In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s terrible decision, unjustified by either present facts or historic exculsions, to invalidate a key part of that landmark act, we will march not only to commemorate the past but to reaffirm and continue the cause of the security of voting rights, civil right, and human rights for all – which is America’s promise and America’s creed. Like Jefferson, Lincoln, and King, we recognize it must also be America’s reality.  We must not shrink from the battle to ensure that states do not turn back the clock on the right to vote through burdensome voter I.D. laws and restrictions on registration and early voting.

“I am proud to be an original cosponsor of legislation to fix the damage wrought by the Shelby County v. Holder case, which was introduced with bipartisan support. Our legislation, called the Voting Rights Amendments Act, deserves a vote without delay.  

“In her dissent in Shelby v. Holder, Justice Ginsburg reaffirmed Congress’s responsibility to engage on this issue: ‘the constitution vests broad power in Congress to protect the right to vote, and in particular to combat racial discrimination in voting. This court has repeatedly reaffirmed Congress’ prerogative to use any rational means in exercise of its power in this area.’

“I hope you will join me in calling on the House leadership to act swiftly to move that bill to the Floor – along with legislation I cosponsored with Rep. John Lewis and others to expand protections for voters even further: the Voter Empowerment Act.  Congress ought to hold a vote – so that every American can exercise his or her fundamental right to vote.

“I look forward to continuing to work with your organizations to advance the cause of voting rights in our country.  Together, we can strengthen our democracy and ensure that America truly reflects the principles of equal justice, equal opportunity, and an equal voice for every citizen. Thank you.”

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