Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leading figure in the civil rights movement, took to the House floor late Wednesday night to call out a colleague over an amendment he called "shameful."
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) introduced an amendment to cut all funding for enforcement of a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 intended to prevent racial discrimination. The provision, Section 5, requires a number of states and counties, mostly in the South, to receive federal approval before changing their election laws.
“I know firsthand how onerous this law is," Broun said. "My home state of Georgia, as an example, has long struggled with the U.S. Department of Justice over its voter identification laws.”
Broun argued that the provision unfairly targeted several states and had become "antiquated."
"As Americans, we pride ourselves in our electoral system. But the integrity of our elections is called into question when this outdated law bars states from ensuring that those who come to the polls to vote are eligible to do so," he said.
Broun's remarks were rebuked by a number of other representatives. Even those, like Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who thought the amendment could be worth discussing, said a late-night appropriations debate was not the appropriate time to do so.
Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., took to the floor to denounce Broun's amendment.
"It is hard and difficult and almost unbelievable that any member, but especially a member from the state of Georgia, would come and offer such an amendment," Lewis said, recounting the history of struggles over voters' rights. "It's shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime, one dollar to carry out the mandate of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."
“People died for the right to vote -- friends of mine, colleagues of mine,” Lewis said. "I speak out against this amendment."
Broun, chastised, gave in. "I apologize to my dear friend from Georgia if he's gotten angry with this amendment. It was never my intent to do so, and I'm going to ask unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment," he said.
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