Pelosi Floor Speech in Support of H.R. 4, Voting Rights Advancement Act

December 6, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which passed on a 228 – 187 vote.  This bill restores the full strength of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision gutted the Act, unleashing a flood of voter suppression laws.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding, Mr. Nadler, the distinguished Chair of the Judiciary Committee.  Thank you for your leadership in bringing this important opportunity for America to the Floor of the House today.

I commend Congresswoman Terri Sewell for her tremendous leadership, the gentlewoman from Alabama, who knows this subject well, personally, geographically and officially now as a leading Member of the House of Representatives.  Thank you for your leadership.

I thank Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, holding field hearings from Alabama to Arizona on this urgent issue of voting rights.  That scope of Alabama to Arizona is not alphabetically a big range, but geographically and experience-wise it is.

And Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress: what an honor it is for each and every one of us to serve with him, to call him colleague and many cases to call him friend.  He is the civil rights hero of the House, whose Voter Empowerment Act was the backbone of H.R. 1, the For The People Act.

Because there is some resistance on the side of the aisle here to our reducing the role of dark money in politics, which is a significant part of H.R. 1, we pulled out H.R. 4 as its own vehicle on the Floor.  

And I thank all the House Democrats who came to Congress committed to restoring the right to the ballot, reflected in the naming of the legislation ‘H.R. 4,’ one of our top priorities.  

I say Democrats, but it saddens me to hear the distinguished Ranking Member's comments about this legislation and urging a no vote on the Republican side, because I was Leader when we passed the Voting Rights Act that this is – the court sent us back to the drawing board on.

At that time, we had around 400 votes in the House of Representatives, upwards of 395.  Four hundred votes, bipartisan, completely bipartisan vote to pass that bill.  It was unanimous in the United States Senate, not partisan in any way.

And that we have come to a place where the court said you need to do this or thus.  We followed Justice Roberts' guidance and now, with the improvements insisted upon by Justice Roberts, the Republicans have gone from being part of nearly 400-vote majority on the bill, to hopefully not being unanimously against it, but we'll see.

My colleagues, nearly 55 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson came to the House of Representatives.  He came to this House, and on the House Floor, to urge passage of the Voting Rights Act, ‘for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.’

He declared that, ‘This is the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose… all men are created equal.’  

‘Those were not just words,’  he said, ‘In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries.  Those words were promised to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man.’  

He continued, ‘Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of men were to flourish, it would be rooted in democracy, the right to choose your own leaders.  The history of this country said in large measure, is the history of expansion of that right for – for all people.’

Yet, a half century later, the constitutional right of all Americans to determine their leaders and destiny of our democracy is under grave assault from a brazen, nationwide voter suppression campaign.  

Since the Shelby v. Holder decision, 23 states, maybe more ­­– but at least 23 states have enacted voter suppression laws, including voter purges, strict ID requirements,  poll closures, voter intimidation, denying millions their voice by their vote.

The record compiled by the Committee shows that the counties with the worst histories of voter suppression doubled down on their discrimination during this time: purging 17 million voters from the rolls between 2016 and 2018 alone, primary people of color.

Today the house is honoring our nation's sacred pledge – ‘all are created equal’ – by passing H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

This bill restores the Voting Rights Act's strength to combat the clear resurgence of voter discrimination unleashed by Shelby by updating the data determining which states and practices are covered by the law.

No longer will cynical politicians and states with dark histories of discrimination have the greenlight to freely continue their systemic suppression campaign.

When President Johnson spoke on this Floor, he said, ‘There must be no delaying, no hesitation and no compromise with our purpose.  We have already waited 100 years and more, and the time for waiting is gone.’

Indeed, it took the courage and ultimate sacrifice of countless Americans, including our own John Lewis, to secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  Honoring and strengthening that legacy is essential to our democracy.  We want to be sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote and that that person's vote is counted as cast.

Today, the time for waiting is gone.  We must pass this bill, which is a vote for civil rights, liberty and justice for all.

Thank you, Mr. Nadler, thank you, Macia Fudge and thank you, Terri Sewell, the author of this legislation, which you introduced three times, now the third Congress, for giving us the privilege to be part of honoring the pledge of our founders: all are created equal.

With that, I urge an aye vote on the bill and yield back the balance of my time.