Padilla Delivers Floor Speech Honoring Representative John Lewis, Demands Action on Voting Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate honoring the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis, while demanding the Senate take action on critical voting rights legislation – including passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

This week, Padilla participated in a Rules Committee field hearing in Georgia on the urgent need to pass legislation to establish federal voting rights standards. Padilla previously served as California’s Secretary of State. 

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Speech / Download Video of Padilla’s Speech

Key Excerpts:

  • One year ago this week, our nation lost a giant. A man with a righteous purpose and remarkable legacy, John Robert Lewis, who dedicated his life to the cause of justice. From Troy, Alabama, to a bridge in Selma, to the halls of this very Congress, he put his body on the line for every American’s sacred right to vote. John Lewis never stopped fighting, because he understood that democracy is a commitment we have to make again and again and again.
  • John Lewis understood the power and the fragility of our multiracial democracy because he did so much to build it in his lifetime. At the age of 25, he led peaceful protesters on a march through Alabama to demand the right to vote. And as the world witnessed, they were attacked, gassed, and beaten by police officers. They were attacked because the right to vote is power, and white supremacists feared the power of people of color exercising that right.
  • The Voting Rights Act recognized the important role of the federal government in protecting the right to vote. It helped guarantee communities of color their rightful voice in our democracy. Over time, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized four times, including most recently in 2006, when Representative Lewis and a nearly unanimous Congress voted to affirm the continued need for its protections. That’s right—passage of the Voting Rights Act and every reauthorization of the Act was always on a bipartisan basis.
  • Mr. President, in 2020, in the midst of an ongoing global health pandemic, our nation held one of the most successful and secure elections in our history. Voters of color made their voices heard in record numbers, and confirmed again that our democracy is strongest when all eligible Americans are able to participate. But instead of celebrating this remarkable achievement, Republican legislative leaders in statehouses around the country this year have proposed and passed bill after bill after bill restricting the right to vote and restricting access to the ballot. They’re doing this on the basis of lies about voter fraud, and rooted firmly in a legacy of white supremacy. They continue to do so as we speak.
  • In this Senate, our Republican colleagues have turned a blind eye, choosing to be complicit in this outright assault on our democracy. Senate Republicans have refused to even open a debate on voting rights legislation. Instead, they’ve preferred to abuse the filibuster to enable Republican legislative leaders across the country to continue their assault. Mr. President, our democracy is on the line. The unfinished work of John Lewis remains. We must summon the courage to act. That’s why I am committed to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will protect the right to vote for all people.
  • When I was first elected California’s Secretary of State, to serve as the Chief Elections Officer for the state of California, I sought out the counsel of John Lewis. For more than forty-five minutes, during our first meeting, and time and again after that, John guided with me his wisdom, taught me by his example, and inspired me through his courage. He was always gracious with his time, warm with his spirit, and true in his conviction. And he reminded me, as he reminded so many of us, that our struggle is the struggle of a lifetime.
  • You see, despite the scars that he bore and the hatred that he faced down, John Lewis was fundamentally a hopeful man, a man who never abandoned the youthful spirit that carried him across that bridge in Selma and he always looked to the next generation for leadership, for energy and inspiration to carry the cause forward. It is now on us to take up his work. There is no better way for us to honor the legacy of John Lewis.

The full transcript of Padilla’s remarks as delivered below:

PADILLA: Mr. President, one year ago this week, our nation lost a giant.

A man with a righteous purpose and remarkable legacy, John Robert Lewis, who dedicated his life to the cause of justice.

From Troy, Alabama, to a bridge in Selma, to the halls of this very Congress, he put his body on the line for every American’s sacred right to vote.

John Lewis never stopped fighting, because he understood that democracy is a commitment we have to make again and again and again.

As he wrote in the last days of his life, “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

John Lewis understood the power and the fragility of our multiracial democracy because he did so much to build it in his lifetime.

At the age of 25, he led peaceful protesters on a march through Alabama to demand the right to vote. And as the world witnessed, they were attacked, gassed, and beaten by police officers. They were attacked because the right to vote is power, and white supremacists feared the power of people of color exercising that right.

But out of the pain and outrage over this Bloody Sunday came one of our country’s greatest monuments to freedom: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For nearly fifty years, the Voting Rights Act stood as a guardian of our multiracial democracy.

It outlawed literacy tests. It prohibited voting procedures that would deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race or color. It gave the Department of Justice the power to review any new voting rules in places with a history of voter suppression, and to block rules with discriminatory effects.

And critically, the Voting Rights Act recognized the important role of the federal government in protecting the right to vote.

It helped guarantee communities of color their rightful voice in our democracy.

Over time, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized four times, including most recently in 2006, when Representative Lewis and a nearly unanimous Congress voted to affirm the continued need for its protections.

That’s right—passage of the Voting Rights Act and every reauthorization of the Act was always on a bipartisan basis.

But in 2013, five conservative justices of the Supreme Court overrode the bipartisan consensus of Congress.

In spite of the voluminous record assembled by Congress, and the reality of the country around them, these five justices effectively ended preclearance, and gutted a key protection of the Voting Rights Act.

As Justice Ginsberg, the late Justice Ginsberg, wrote in her dissent, it was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Well, the storm of voter suppression is most certainly pouring over us now.

Mr. President, in 2020, in the midst of an ongoing global health pandemic, our nation held one of the most successful and secure elections in our history.

Voters of color made their voices heard in record numbers, and confirmed again that our democracy is strongest when all eligible Americans are able to participate.

But instead of celebrating this remarkable achievement, Republican legislative leaders in statehouses around the country this year have proposed and passed bill after bill after bill restricting the right to vote and restricting access to the ballot. 

They’re doing this on the basis of lies about voter fraud, and rooted firmly in a legacy of white supremacy. They continue to do so as we speak.

The Supreme Court’s most recent anti-democracy decision in the Brnovich case, which eviscerated a key remaining protection of the Voting Rights Act will only embolden these attacks.

But so far, in this Senate, our Republican colleagues have turned a blind eye, choosing to be complicit in this outright assault on our democracy.

Senate Republicans have refused to even open a debate on voting rights legislation.

Instead, they’ve preferred to abuse the filibuster to enable Republican legislative leaders across the country to continue their assault.

Mr. President, our democracy is on the line. The unfinished work of John Lewis remains. We must summon the courage to act.

That’s why I am committed to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will protect the right to vote for all people.

I can think of no more fitting way to honor the memory of a man who chose our democracy as the struggle of his lifetime.

Mr. President, when I was first elected California’s Secretary of State, to serve as the Chief Elections Officer for the state of California, I sought out the counsel of John Lewis.

For more than forty-five minutes, during our first meeting, and time and again after that, John guided with me his wisdom, taught me by his example, and inspired me through his courage.

He was always gracious with his time, warm with his spirit, and true in his conviction.

And he reminded me, as he reminded so many of us, that our struggle is the struggle of a lifetime.

As he said, we cannot “be afraid to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble” along the way.

In fact, given the circumstances, it’s exactly what we need to do today.

As a bipartisan Senate if we can, or as the elected Democratic majority if we must, it is imperative that we pass legislation to preserve our democracy.

We must carry the torch that John Lewis carried for us for so long, and build—for all Americans—a democracy that is as free, as fair, as accessible, and as inclusive as we can possibly make it. And we must remain hopeful in this pursuit.

You see, despite the scars that he bore and the hatred that he faced down, John Lewis was fundamentally a hopeful man, a man who never abandoned the youthful spirit that carried him across that bridge in Selma and he always looked to the next generation for leadership, for energy and inspiration to carry the cause forward.

It is now on us to take up his work. There is no better way for us to honor the legacy of John Lewis.

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