Senators in our nation's capital started an effort Wednesday to update the Voting Rights Act. The effort started with hearings to address the Supreme Court's recent decision, striking down part of the landmark law. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, opened Wednesday's Senate hearing with a personal testimony, reflecting on the decades long effort to secure and preserve the right to vote. He urged Congress to restore the law in a timely, nonpartisan way.
"It is the duty and the responsibility of Congress to restore the life and soul of the Voting Rights Act," Lewis said. "And we must do it, and we must do it now."
In 1965, Lewis marched into history after enduring beatings by Alabama state troopers while trying to register black voters. That day became known as Bloody Sunday, and Lewis said it's a reminder of what's at stake.
In its decision last month, the Supreme Court invalidated a formula in the Voting Rights Act that's used to figure out which jurisdictions need to get advance clearance from the federal government before making changes to voting rules. The Court left it up to a gridlocked Congress to come up with a new formula.
In a sign of bipartisan unity, Lewis, a Democrat, was joined by Republican Rep. John Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. Sensenbrenner guided the overwhelming reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act through Congress in 2006. He outlined the current obstacles.
"Congress is now presented with a challenge and an historic opportunity," Sensebrenner said. "Our sacred Constitution guarantees that an American citizen cannot be kept from exercising his or her God-given right to vote because of race or color. Though the Voting Rights Act has been enormously successful, we know our work is not yet complete."
After the hearing, Lewis said he's confident that Congress will craft a new Voting Rights Act.
“We will do it, because it's the right thing to do," he said. "As I said before, and I said over and over again, the vote is precious, almost sacred. People gave a little blood. Some people gave their very lives for the right to participate in a democratic process."