Speech ● Voting Rights
For Immediate Release: 
July 15, 2013
Contact Info: 

Stephanie Young, 202-225-3130

WASHINGTON, DC - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks at this afternoon's “We Shall Not Be Moved” Legislative Workshop at the NAACP's 104th Annual National Convention.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, and I’m so honored to be here to participate in the NAACP’s 104th Annual National Convention. The theme of this year’s convention is ‘we shall not be moved.’

“We meet this week in the immediate aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case. Whatever else that case means, it surely informs us that there is much work to do: justice to pursue and equality to protect.

“During the civil rights movement, at the restaurant counters, on the freedom rides, and at marches for justice and equality, men and women of every age, race, and creed sang together: ‘we shall not, we shall not be moved / just like a tree planted by the water / we shall not be moved.’  They sang as the clubs came down upon them.  They sang as the water hoses unleashed a torrent of intolerance– but could not drown out their voices.  And, like a tree, they stood firm, they demanded equal justice and equal opportunity – and they would not be moved. In doing so, they moved a nation.

“Ten times I have marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with my friend John Lewis to remember those who gave their lives to ensure the right to vote for every American – and to commemorate the enormous struggle it took to bring about the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“In 2013, some now claim that we no longer need the Voting Rights Act. They contend that it has worked so well its protections are out of date.  This view is not only naïve but dangerous.  At a time when we continue to see voting rights violated in a way that disproportionately affects African Americans, Latinos, seniors, and students, we need the protections of the Voting Rights Act just as much now as we did when it was enacted.

“In the aftermath of the 2008 election, many states controlled by Republican legislatures moved to implement new identification and registration rules making it harder for low-income voters, students, and members of minority groups to get on the voting rolls and obtain a ballot on Election Day.  And in 2012 we continued to see long lines, voter intimidation, and contested ballots that deterred many from exercising their right to vote – and disproportionately so in minority communities.

“With the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder last month, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination are now free to implement changes to their election laws that will make it harder for eligible Americans to exercise their most basic political right. And, they are doing so: in Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.  That is, until Congress acts.

“The court left it up to Congress to write new guidelines for federal oversight of changes to election laws in states, counties, and cities with a history of discrimination – a process known as ‘preclearance.’  But we need to act quickly.  And, we must act in a bipartisan way, if we are to be successful.

“That is why I have spent time with Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, with whom I have worked over a decade for equal rights for the disabled and who was the sponsor of the 2006 Voting Rights Act. Together we must act.

“As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote last month, in her dissent – I quote: ‘the sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the [Voting Rights Act] has proven effective. ...throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.’

“Justice Ginsburg went on to say: ‘the record supporting the 2006 Reauthorization of the VRA is also extraordinary. It was described by [Chairman Sensenbrenner of the] House Judiciary Committee as “one of the most extensive considerations of any piece of legislation that the United States Congress has dealt with in the 27½ years” he had served in the House.’

“She concluded her compelling defense with these words: ‘it was the judgment of Congress that “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th Amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.”’ 

“The dissenters were justifiably concerned.  In the few weeks since the Court’s ruling, some states – including Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi – are now rushing to implement rules that federal judges had earlier declared to be discriminatory.  We must not let this ruling go unaddressed.

“Thankfully, there is indeed real potential for a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act that sets new guidelines for preclearance.  Congress passed the 2006 reauthorization with 390 votes in the Republican-controlled House and 98-0 in the Republican-controlled Senate – and it was signed by a Republican president, George W. Bush.

“This mirrors the traditionally strong bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act, which originally passed in 1965 with 328 votes in the House and 79 votes in the Senate.

"Rep. Sensenbrenner, who was one of the leading sponsors of the reauthorization in 2006, said at the time: ‘we cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains.  The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist – and exist in its current form.’

"Congressman Sensenbrenner is committed to responding to this judicial activism which substitutes the court’s analysis for Congress.  Congressman Sensenbrenner is still in Congress, and there are many House and Senate Republicans today who I know would support a new, robust preclearance formula if it comes to the Floor for a vote, which all of us must work to ensure.

“It will be harder, this time around, though, to move legislation forward as a result of the partisan climate – but pressure on both parties can compel Congress to act.  That’s why we need a grassroots effort to make sure that the pressure is there and that it is felt. 

“And, as the NAACP has done so often in the past, NAACP is once again taking a leadership role in this effort.  Your focus on the issue of securing Americans’ voting rights in our day has made a difference in helping to put a hold on many of these new, discriminatory state laws before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“And you have been early and vocal supporters of the Voter Empowerment Act, which I was proud to join Rep. John Lewis in introducing.  Our legislation would not only protect against voter suppression but make polling places more accessible, reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission, modernize voter registration, and ban discriminatory practices meant to deter voters from registering or casting their votes.  I am also engaged in an effort to urge Congress and the President to fill vacancies on the Election Assistance Commission, which provides oversight for voting systems and encourages modernization and accountability.

“Now the country is looking to you to help lead the way forward in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision.  That path forward will not be easy, and it will require the same energy, passion, and determination that saw this organization and its allies through to the passage of the original Voting Rights Act. 

“I see that same energy and passion and determination here in Orlando, and I know you can deploy it across the country to raise awareness about our current voting rights challenges.  I know you will organize your communities, and demand action from your Members of Congress.

“To those who think they can impose these new barriers to voting – to those who believe that the proponents of equality and justice will sit idly by and watch as they do so, I tell them with the firmness of our conviction: ‘we shall not be moved.’

“’We shall be not moved.’  Like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.  And as a nation that holds fast to our enduring principles of justice, equality, and full inclusion for all – once again; we must overcome. Thank you.”