House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday claimed the support of America’s founding fathers for a bill to overturn a Supreme Court decision holding that Southern states could not be treated differently under the Voting Rights Act.
Pelosi spoke at a “Restore the Vote” rally in front of the Capitol building in support of legislation that would re-impose restrictions on Southern states under the original Voting Rights Act passed in the 1960s. The law, which guarantees the right of citizens to vote, imposed special restrictions on the South and a handful of other jurisdictions with histories of undermining the voting rights of minorities.
Those jurisdictions had to get advance permission from the Justice Department to make even routine changes to their electoral systems, such as moving a polling location. The high court ruled in 2013 that decades after the civil rights movement, the formula used to determine which jurisdictions come under special restrictions no longer was constitutional.
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A bill offered by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) would rewrite the formula in an attempt to make those restrictions constitutional.
Pelosi alluded to a hypothetical meeting in heaven between the founding fathers and people who oppose the bill.
“The public should know that there are obstacles to participation to our democracy, that our founders thought of something completely different from this,” she said. “It’s a sacred right. It’s the basis for a democracy. I often say to them, if and when you go to heaven and you see our founders, how do you approach them and say, ‘I did everything in my power to suppress the vote?'”
Pelosi’s reference to the founding fathers is somewhat bizarre. It is unlikely that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and George Mason would favor a law that imposed federal election controls on their native Virginia that did not apply to Northern states as well.
Beyond that, the founders on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line created a system that allowed for voting by only a tiny fraction of the population — white, male property owners. It was a significant democratic advancement over governments that existed in the 18th century. But the founders did not allow voting by non-landowners, much less advocate for a system to safeguard the right of poor minorities to vote.
Pelosi blasted people who believe the Voting Rights Act should be applied uniformly across the country. She noted that some opponents of the bill attended a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the famous 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, by civil rights activists.
“They come to the 50th anniversary, and they come home and say, ‘You can’t have a vote,'” she said. “Well, it’s nice for them to pay their respects. But their ultimate respect is to respect the right of every American who is eligible to have that right to vote.”