Speech ● Voting Rights
For Immediate Release: 
June 26, 2020
Contact Info: 
Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) joined Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (SC-06) for a press conference today marking the 7th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision and urged the Senate to take up and pass H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Below is a transcript of his remarks and a link to the video.

Click here to watch the video.
“Thank you very much. I’m going to leave this mask on. This mask is about voting rights. This mask is about respect. This mask is about doing what our democracy demands: facilitating that everybody in America, every individual, every American citizen has the right to vote and to have their vote counted.

“Thank you, Congresswoman [Terri] Sewell, for your leadership. Nancy [Pelosi] and I and Jim [Clyburn] have all been in Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, from which John Lewis and 599 other people – mostly young people – left from that church, walked a number of blocks, and walked across a bridge named for Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. I’ve had the honor of 15 times walking across that bridge with John Lewis, many of those times holding his hand, with the confidence that when I got to the other side of that bridge, I was not going to be met with dogs and horses and batons because America had become a little better.

“On that fiftieth anniversary [of the Marches from Selma to Montgomery] in 2015, when Barack Obama and George Bush spoke on the podium at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, President Obama gave one of, I think, his greatest speeches. And he said ‘the strength of America is not that it was perfect,’ but… ‘it is always striving to be more perfect.’

“That’s what today is. [The vote on DC statehood] is giving respect to 706,000 of our citizens. What this bill does gives respect and protection for millions of citizens who, as the President of the United States says ‘if they vote, we may lose.’ What an extraordinary admission of venial intent and purpose to exclude [Americans] because they may not vote for me. Is that what our democracy is about? You can become a citizen and have voting rights if you vote for me? That is called dictatorship.

“Jim Clyburn and I have known each other for over 55 years. We were active in the Young Democrats together. He in South Carolina, and myself in Maryland. We grew up in the era of Civil Rights, in the era of Martin Luther King, of Rosa Parks – of standing up or in Rosa’s case sitting down for equal rights, for living out the promise of America.

“Seven years ago yesterday, the Supreme Court took an axe to one of the most important voting right laws in our history. When the justices struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they did not say, Congresswoman Sewell, that its premise was unconstitutional. On the contrary, they recognized – as we do – how important it is for the federal government to maintain its preclearance provisions to protect voters in jurisdictions with a history of disenfranchisement.

“Why did they say preclearance? Because after the election is over and the votes have been counted and somebody has been judged the winner, it is too late to go to court and say ‘oh they didn’t follow the rules.’ You need to make sure before the election that fairness is followed. So they charged Congress, as you have pointed out Congresswoman Sewell, of re-writing the preclearance formula for the 21st century, and we did. And we’ve worked on it ever since. We haven’t been working on it just today, or just yesterday, or just last year when we passed H.R. 4. We’ve been working on it since the day this opinion was made. Jim Clyburn has been a leader. He and I have worked together with the Speaker, and with Ms. Sewell, and John Lewis, one of the great heroes of America. For seven years, House Democrats have been trying to do just that, but the Republican-led Senate has stood in the way.

“Now let me remind you that the people of Florida passed a referendum and said, if you’ve served your sentence, if you’ve paid your debt to society, you can vote. So what did the Republicans in Florida do in the legislature? They passed a poll tax. They didn’t call it a poll tax because they knew poll taxes were illegal. So what they said was you’ve got to pay your costs – your court costs, any fines, etc, etc. In other words, if you didn’t have the cash, you couldn’t vote. We outlawed that a long time ago, but Republicans are still trying to do it.

“When we came into the Majority last year, we passed, as Rep. Sewell has said, H.R. 4. Unfortunately, the Republican-led Senate continues its obstruction. Two-hundred and seventy-five bipartisan bills. Yesterday, we passed a bipartisan bill – and Senator McConnell says he won’t consider it – trying to bring justice to policing in America. That legislation sits unborn in the United States Senate, unattended, ignoring of democracy, shameful, unacceptable. Unfortunately, the Republican-led Senate continues its obstruction.

“Democrats, however, will not rest, and when we take back the Senate next year, and we expect our numbers in the House of Representatives, we’ll pass this bill again if they don’t take it up. So don’t let them think the delay is going to lead to the delay that [Merrick] Garland found and when he couldn’t be reconsidered [as a Supreme Court justice] because Trump became the President of the United States. This will not go away. And it’s better, and fairer, and more just, and more American to do it today.

“I want to thank our dear friend John Lewis, who has extraordinary courage, extraordinary integrity, and he tells us to keep our eye on the prize. Each year, I’ve been honored, as I said, to travel with him [to Selma]. So I urge the Senate to cease its dithering and delay.

“Let me quote Justice Ginsberg in this case, ‘Throwing out preclearance, when it has worked and continuing to work to stop discrimination, is the throwing away of your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.’ In other words, the preclearance provided for fair treatment, and what the Court said, is well, we’ll have fair treatment now, so we’ll throw out the reason we do. What perverse judgement that is.

“Let us hope our Republican colleagues follow the admonition of our friend, and my dear, dear friend and colleague, who has now passed away. Elijah Cummings said we are better than this. Let’s show him.”