At Lewis funeral, Obama calls for renewing Voting Rights Act

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2020 Atlanta Journal Constitution

Former President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after addressing services for the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

ATLANTA – Former President Barack Obama used Rep. 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 honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing 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, now named for 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.

Specifically, Obama called for all Americans being registered to vote automatically, restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, expanding early voting, ending partisan gerrymandering of districts and making Election Day a national holiday.

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.