Respect John Lewis’ Legacy and Pass His Voting Rights Bill
Republicans gave their condolences to the late senator, but their actions are hypocritical to Lewis’ life’s work
On Rep. John Lewis’ last journey, which will eventually end today at South-View Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, he stopped at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to lie in state, where government officials paid their final respects. These included Republican lawmakers who have worked against Lewis, and the causes he has supported, for decades. Their presence was purely performative. It was a photo op they could tweet to their followers.
There is a far more sincere way for Republicans to commemorate Lewis’ devotion to public service. The Senate could pass HR 4, recently renamed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. The House initially passed this measure in December, but it has been languishing in the Senate ever since. It would restore a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in its 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder. Specifically, the Lewis Voting Rights Act would require that states with a history of voter suppression receive federal oversight of their proposed changes to election procedures. The passage of this act into law would be one of the best ways to continue Lewis’ legacy.
Lewis spent a lifetime fighting for the right to vote. On March 7, 1965, 25-year-old Lewis, then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery to demand that Gov. George Wallace give Black Alabamans the right to register to vote. The day would become known as “Bloody Sunday.” It was a turning point in the civil rights movement.
At the beginning of the march, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Alabama state troopers beat and tear-gassed some 600 marchers and cracked Lewis’ skull. In an interview in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Lewis stated, “Some of us gave a little blood on that bridge to redeem the soul of America, to make America better. I thought I was going to die on that bridge.” Alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of others, Lewis made a second attempt to march to Montgomery. This time they were…