Floor Speech in Support of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore the power of the Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
I thank the gentleman for the recognition and I acknowledge his tremendous leadership over time, including right now, on the issue of voting rights in our country. Thank you for bringing this important legislation to the Floor, to do so under the name of Congresswoman Terri Sewell, the author of the bill, who has been working on this for a long time, since the assault on the legislation, on these laws by the Supreme Court. And to Mr. Clyburn, a champion from the Civil Rights Era till now, always fighting for all of this. And Zoe Lofgren, the Chair of the House Administration Committee.
So many people to acknowledge: Mr. Butterfield, for his work on establishing the constitutional record, as well as Marcia Fudge, now Secretary Fudge, for her work. So many people to build a constitutional basis to make it ironclad, so that the Supreme Court of the United States cannot once again do violence as it did in Shelby County v. Holder and the most recent assault on Section 2.
Madam Speaker, I think our colleagues will all agree many wonderful honors are afforded us as Members of Congress. I can think of none that is more poignant than being here today, to be able to speak on an important issue named for John Lewis. It’s almost a religious experience because of the sanctity of the vote, which is greatly at risk.
Our colleagues have mentioned some of the assaults on voting that have taken place and to undermine what we are: a democracy. We talk about the Preamble, where 230 years ago, our Founders gave us guidance in the words, ‘We The People,’ establishing a government in which the people, not a king, would shape their own destiny. Ever since, Americans have fought real on that promise for all citizens while enshrining in the Constitution the 13th and 15th Amendments and the 19th Amendment, which we are celebrating this week, to expand voting rights to women and through passing landmark – landmark civil and voting rights protections, including the Voting Rights Act.
Right here in this very Chamber, the Voting Rights Act was passed. President Lyndon Johnson spoke there in a beautiful speech, the ‘We Shall Overcome,’ speech in which he called the VRA’s passage, ‘The history of this country, in large measure, is the history of the expansion of what is right for all of our people.’ And, we all know that the story of America is a story of ever-expanding freedoms.
Yet, today, that story and those rights are under threat from a targeted, brazen and partisan campaign to deny Americans the ballot. This campaign is anti-democratic, it's dangerous, and it demands action.
Today, the House will pass H.R. 4, the John Lewis – John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to combat this anti-democratic tide. This bill restores the power of the Voting Rights Act, as President Johnson said, ‘one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.’ Any diminishment of the Voting Rights Act is a diminishment of our democracy. In America, the right to vote must never, ever be compromised.
Again, I thank Representative Sewell, Mr. Butterfield, Marcia Fudge, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren and so many who – Mr. Clyburn. So many made this day possible.
And let me pause to salute our beloved conscience of the Congress, the late John Lewis, whose words guide us: ‘The vote is precious,’ he said. ‘It is almost sacred.’ And, ‘It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.’
The previous speaker mentioned that he had been at the christening of the John Lewis ship. We were all together in San Diego, and we were honored that he – that the Congressman was there with us. As he was saying those words, I was remembering that day, we were all very excited that the largest contingent of Members of Congress to go to the christening of a ship, and I’ve been to several, so I know.
And what it was reminding me of is when we had gone a couple of years ago, 2019, to Ghana. John Lewis led us there. It was the 400th anniversary, and you were there, Madam Speaker. Mr. Clyburn and so many others were there. We were there with John Lewis and went to the bridge of – the Door of No Return, which now is the Door of Return, as they were welcoming people back. I have this bracelet that I got from the President of Ghana when we were there as a remembrance of that trip. And I have it on now, because when John Lewis said then and apropos of the christening of his ship, ‘We may have come to this country in different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.’ That's what John Lewis said. He said it in Ghana. He said it many times. ‘We’re all in the same boat.’ We all should have the right to vote, and that shouldn't be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, to have access to the polls.
As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from what is the worst voter suppression campaign since Jim Crow, unleashed by Shelby v. Holder in 2013. And in 2021 state legislators – lawmakers have introduced over 400 suppression bills. I'm very honored today, Madam Speaker, that we have visitors – legislators from the state of Texas who are fighting the fight for voting rights for people in their state and in our country. They are patriotic Americans. And let us hear applause for those Texans who have done so much.
Much has been said about preclearance and thousands of discriminatory voting changes, but in the Shelby decision, the dissent was written by Justice Ginsburg. And she noted in her dissent the Court's reasoning in Shelby was nonsensical: ‘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.’
Sadly, the Court has since continued that assault on the ballot. So, H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would be a remedy to this assault and to restore the preclearance provision.
As I said earlier today on the Rule of this vote, in 2006, we all came together in a bipartisan way to pass the Voting Rights Act. Nearly 400 votes in the House, unanimous in the Senate, we came together in the center of the Capitol and marched down the Capitol steps, celebrating that. The bill was signed by President George Bush, proudly. He joined us in Selma, hosted by Congresswoman Sewell. He joined us and President Obama in Selma, and he came and spoke as the president, who had signed the Voting Rights Act. As I said, more important, Mrs. Bush, Laura Bush, was there. So, their hearts were in all of this. It was bipartisan. I wish it could be today.
In our work to protect the ballot, let us recall John Lewis’s final message published after his passing: ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act.’ With H.R. 4, his namesake, the Congress takes this action to build a future in which we all have equitable access to the ballot and to our democracy. In memory of our beloved John, for whom this legislation is named, and in the interest of passing it and H.R. 1, of which he wrote the first 300 pages, let us honor our patriotic duty and make justice and equality there for everyone to vote.
Thank you, Madam Speaker. I yield back the balance of my time.