Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Obama calls for renewal of the Voting Rights Act

Published:Friday | July 31, 2020 | 12:21 AM
Former President Barack Obama addressing the funeral for the late Republican John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta yesterday.
Former President Barack Obama addressing the funeral for the late Republican John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta yesterday.


Former president Barack Obama used Republican John Lewis’ funeral on Thursday to issue a stark warning that the voting rights and equal opportunity the late civil rights icon championed are threatened heading into the 2020 election.

Speaking from the pulpit of the church that Martin Luther King Jr once led, Obama did not mention President Donald Trump. But the first black president drew unmistakable contrasts with his successor, and he implicitly lambasted how Trump has handled voting procedures and ongoing civil unrest amid a national reckoning over systemic racism.

Obama called on Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act, which Trump and Republican congressional leaders have left unchanged since the Supreme Court diminished the landmark law in 2012.

“You want to honour John? Let’s honour him by revitalising the law that he was willing to die for,” Obama said, arguing that the bipartisan praise for the Georgia congressman since his death isn’t enough.


Obama endorsed ending the Senate filibuster if that is what’s needed to pass an overhauled voting law. He called the procedural hurdle that effectively requires 60 votes to pass major legislation a “Jim Crow relic,” referring to the segregation era.

The Democratic-led House has adopted a sweeping rewrite of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats want to name the new version after Lewis. It faces opposition in the Republican-led Senate and likely couldn’t get 60 votes, even if Democrats reclaim a narrow majority after the November elections.

Obama noted that the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its renewals drew Republican and Democratic votes in Congress and were signed by presidents from both parties. Obama singled out former President George W. Bush, a Republican, who also spoke Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church near downtown Atlanta.

Still, Obama said, “There are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws ... even undermining the postal service in an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots.”

Hours before Lewis’ funeral, Trump suggested delaying the November election, something he doesn’t have the authority to do. Trump has falsely claimed that a surge of mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic will threaten the election’s legitimacy. Trump has opposed moves in Congress to help the financially struggling US Postal Service handle the sharp uptick in mail voting.