The Fight of a Lifetime

Justin Kwasa, jwkasa@lcvef.org and Melanie Fineman, mfineman@lcv.org

Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”John Lewis

The late John Lewis is best known as a champion for civil rights but he was a champion for environmental justice as well. He knew that the impacts of corporate pollution and climate change are often felt disproportionately by communities of color across this country. It’s why he co-sponsored the Environmental Justice Act with then Senator Al Gore back in 1992. 

When we look at the root causes of these inequities, we always point back to a lack of influence and representation for these communities throughout the decision making process. Looking back at our country’s history using critical race theory, we know that from the beginning of our democracy, Black, Latinx, Native, Asian American Pacific Islander and immigrant communities have purposely been denied the right to select their political leaders. As a result, members of these communities have historically been robbed of their voice to hold politicians and corporations accountable when their communities were targeted. 

This is why LCV believes that environmental justice, racial justice and truly representative democracy are all interconnected. It’s why registering communities to vote and protecting their access to the ballot are core pillars in our theory of change. And it’s why LCV is calling on Congress and the Biden administration to counteract the Supreme Court’s shameful attack on our democracy in its recent decision, Brnovich v. DNC.

In its latest decision, the Court gutted vital protections in the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. One of the marquee achievements of the Civil Rights Era, the VRA prohibited state and local governments from adopting voting laws that discriminated against racial minorities and allowed the federal government to specifically monitor jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory practices.

For almost 50 years, this law was paramount to ensuring our elections were free and fair for all communities. The VRA led to increased racial representation in all levels of our democracy, including in the White House. But in 2013, the Supreme Court, with its Shelby v Holder decision,  began to dismantle the VRA. They nullified Section 5 of the VRA, which proactively monitored jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting policies.

In the eight years since that decision, we have seen a dramatic increase in discriminatory voting laws — the largest uptick in recent history. These laws have resulted in millions of eligible voters being purged from registration lists and millions more having to face draconian barriers to simply have their voice heard in our democracy. This movement of unchecked discriminatory voting laws crescendoed this year with 48 states introducing nearly 400 bills aimed at preventing communities of color, once protected by the Voting Rights Act, from voting based on the disproven lie of voter fraud in the 2020 election. 

Now voting rights opponents have nullified the heart of the VRA by attacking Section 2. Since the Shelby County decision in 2013, civil rights organizations across the country have relied on Section 2 of the VRA to file lawsuits against jurisdictions that have passed restrictive voting  laws. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. DNC, the VRA’s strongest protections are gone. We cannot afford for the Supreme Court to get away with the same mistake they made in 2013. 

So how do we counteract this decision?  The answer is the same as it was 60 years ago. Advocate for legislation that effectively addresses our modern versions of voter suppression. We are already pushing for the passage of the For The People Act, which will mandate that best practices in voting accessibility and security be used across the county so that all voters have equal access to the ballot. And we must complement that with a new version of the VRA that highlights and addresses Jim Crow 2.0 laws that are being passed in states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

That is why LCV is proactively supporting the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which will be introduced in the House this fall. The best way to honor John Lewis’s legacy is to ensure that we re-enforce the wins he fought so hard for in the Civil Rights Movement. 

In the 2020 Presidential Election, Joe Biden edged out his opponent in the most voted in Presidential election in American history. But what should be seen as celebration of the inclusiveness of our democracy has quickly turned into an effort to head back to the 1950s suppression with sham election audits, repeals of voting laws meant to expand the electorate and a dismantling of a landmark civil rights law by our highest court.

Now, more than anytime in the past 50 years, we need Congress to pass voter protections that address the unique methods of voter suppression that we see today and will continue to see into the future. LCV calls on Congress and the White House to introduce and pass a John Lewis Voting Rights Act that reinstates and enhances the scope of its predecessor.  

The VRA is more than a just voting law. It is the continued legacy of John Lewis, who fought for racial, environmental and electoral justice for all people. This is one of the defining struggles of our time, and as John Lewis said, “Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” It is our generation’s time to pick up the fight. 

 

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