06/25/2013 08:59 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2013

Voting Rights Claim By Jeff Sessions Hammered By Black Lawmakers

WASHINGTON -- African-American lawmakers -- including Alabamans -- slammed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for claiming there was no discrimination that would fall under the Voting Rights Act that was invalidated by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

"I'm just not aware of any discrimination of that kind. And if it happens I have no doubt that the Alabama attorney general would prosecute it or the U.S. Department of Justice will," Sessions told reporters on Capitol Hill. He added that he was pleased by the court's decision throwing out part of the voting law that forces states to get federal clearance for changes in local voting rules.

The case concerned Shelby County, Ala., where a redistricting effort cost an African-American councilman in the small city of Calera his seat.

"I don't think [preclearance] should exist in Shelby County," Sessions said. "Shelby County has never had a history of denying votes, to my knowledge, and certainly not now."

But black lawmakers from Alabama did not see it Sessions' way.

"It's especially a sad day for my home state," said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), whose district neighbors Shelby County.

"With all due respect to my senator, whom I respect a lot, the reality is that the Shelby County case was an overt example of racial discrimination," Sewell said. "This was an incumbent black elected official who was redistrcted out of his seat, and he lost reelection.

"While much progress has happened in our state, and I'm proud of the progress we've made in our state, I think this case, this very case, ironically, is to me a very bad case," Sewell added. "I think it's ironic that the very state that caused us to get the Voting Rights Act is now being used by the Supreme Court to dismantle that very law," Sewell said.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) put his denunciation of Sessions' position in personal terms.

"I was born in Alabama. I lived in Alabama most of my young life. I saw the signs that said 'white waiting,' 'colored waiting,' 'white men,' 'colored men,' 'white women,' 'colored women,'" he told reporters. "In Alabama, the same year that President Barack Obama was born, black people and white people could sit together in a bus station, or ride together in a taxi cab. We had to change that," he said, adding that the Voting Rights Act did that on Aug. 6, 1965.

"We made progress, yes, but we're not there yet," Lewis added. "it is still needed today in Alabama and throughout the 11 states of the old Confederacy and other parts of our country."

Watch Lewis' personal reflections above.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.



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