Biden rips Georgia election law, says honor late Lewis with voting rights act

By: and - July 14, 2021 2:00 am

In a fiery speech from Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center Tuesday, President Joe Biden called for Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and singled out Georgia’s new election law as “vicious.” Drew Angerer/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Returning to the state that handed him the White House, President Joe Biden made a passionate plea Tuesday for Americans to rise up and protect their voting rights from a series of restrictive measures pushed by Republicans in Washington and in state capitols nationwide.

“It’s up to all of us to protect that right – it is the test of our time,” Biden said during his appearance at the National Constitution Center, where he was joined by such political allies as Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and civil rights advocates such as the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In a fiery address Biden cited three major threats to Americans’ right to vote, saying the nation faced the most dire threat to its democracy since the Civil War.

“That’s not hyperbole. Since the Civil War — the Confederates never breached the Capitol as the insurrectionists did on Jan. 6,” Biden said. “I’m not saying this to alarm you, I’m saying it because you should be alarmed.”

The first is the wave of measures from Republican legislators in Georgia and other closely contested states that he says would undermine voters rights to have their ballot cast and counted. The second is the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, weakening the Voting Rights Act. The third is the effort by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to question the results of the 2020 election, which sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The Big Lie is just that — a big lie,” Biden said of the movement to deny the 2020 results.

“In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You follow the Constitution. You try again. You don’t call facts ‘fake’ just because you’re unhappy,” he said.

To counter these three major threats, Biden called for the enactment of two, sweeping pieces of legislation: the “For the People Act” as well as the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” named for the late, long-serving civil rights icon and Georgia congressman.

The former would “help end voter suppression in the states, get dark money out of politics, give voice to the people at the grassroots level, create fair district maps and end partisan gerrymandering,” he said. “We must pass the For the People Act. It’s a national imperative. We must also fight for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand voting protections to protect (against) voter suppression.”

In addition to this legislative approach, Biden said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will challenge these new Republican efforts in the courts, starting with a lawsuit against Georgia’s new election law announced in June.

“Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the United States Department of Justice is going to be using its authorities to challenge the onslaught of state laws undermining voting rights in old and new ways,” Biden said. “The focus will be on dismantling racially discriminatory laws like the recent challenge to Georgia’s vicious anti-voting law.”

The federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Georgia joins seven other federal suits brought by civil and voting rights organizations that claim Georgia’s new absentee ID requirements, limitations on absentee drop boxes and other changes violate federal voting laws.

He invoked the South’s history of Jim Crow laws, a branding that causes the Republican architects of Georgia’s SB 202 to bristle and reject out of hand.

“The 21st century Jim Crow is real. It’s unrelenting. And we’re going to challenge it vigorously,” the president said.

Republican supporters of Georgia’s election overhaul argue that the legislation improves the security of the absentee voting system, and that some Georgians would have more voting options from a mandated extra weekend voting day and more public notice on polling location changes.

Biden called for a coalition of “advocates, students, faith leaders, labor leaders and business executives” to fight back against this assault.

While never explicitly mentioning his predecessor, the president pointedly proclaimed that he was sworn to fight both foreign and domestic threats.

“Make no mistake, bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country,” Biden said.

The Biden administration announced its first lawsuit against the wave of new election laws in GOP-led states last month, claiming Georgia’s legislation passed at the end of the 2021 legislative session is deliberately designed to make it more difficult for minorities to cast a ballot.

“Many of that law’s provisions make it harder for people to vote,” Garland said when he announced the lawsuit last month. “The complaint alleges that the state enacted those restrictions with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.”

The changes included in the new law limit absentee voting, enact new voter ID requirements and make it illegal for volunteers to hand out food and water to people waiting in long lines to cast their ballots. The new law also allows state officials to take over county election operations it considers underperforming, with Fulton County often singled out by the secretary of state as in most need of oversight.

The Georgia Legislature passed the election law overhaul despite Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger repeatedly casting the state’s 2020 presidential election as the state’s most secure in history. Three recounts, including one by hand, confirmed Biden’s win over former President Donald Trump.

Biden said Tuesday the fact that judges have thrown out dozens of lawsuits challenging the 2020 presidential results and multiple recounts in battleground states confirmed the outcome should have proved the integrity of last fall’s election in the throes of a pandemic to the satisfaction of people who bought into conspiracy theories soon after the Associated Press called the race.

“More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor, heard the arguments,” Biden said. “In every case, neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering this historic election in the face of such extraordinary challenges. Audits, recounts were conducted in Arizona, in Wisconsin. In Georgia, it was (counted) three times.”

With the anniversary of Lewis’ death days away, Biden urged the U.S. Senate to move his namesake voting law to reach his desk.

“We must also fight for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand voting protections and prevent voter suppression,” Biden said. “All the congresswomen and men here — there’s a bunch of you — you knew John, many of you.”

The path for sweeping federal voting rights legislation is a steep one, as the 50 Senate Republicans are showing solidarity against both the bill named for Lewis and the For the People Act. Without GOP support, the voting rights bills will need to reach the unlikely 60-vote threshold required to end a filibuster and advance.

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Nick Field
Nick Field

Nick Field covers politics and culture for the States Newsroom's Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

John McCosh
John McCosh

John McCosh, Editor-in-Chief, is a seasoned writer and editor with decades of experience in journalism and government public affairs. His skills were forged in Georgia newsrooms, where he was a business and investigative reporter, editor and bureau chief, and expanded his experience during years in nonprofit and corporate communications roles. McCosh is a board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and active in the Georgia State Signal Alumni Group, which advises student journalists.