On Voting Rights Act, NAACP President Hopes Boehner Will 'Look Into the Eyes of John Lewis'

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous says he's hopeful that Republicans in Congress will join with Democrats to repair the Voting Rights Act.

"I'm heartened by the signals that Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor has sent that he might be willing to support [altering the Voting Rights Act], and I'm hopeful that Mr. Boehner will look into his heart, and more importantly, look into the eyes of John Lewis, and recognize that on this one, any sort of recent tradition of, We don't put anything forward unless the majority of the party is in alignment, that in this case it might be worth it to let that be the exception," Jealous said, responding to an audience question about the Republican Party's political future.

Lewis is the Georgia Democratic congressman who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement. During this current Congress, Boehner has declined to call votes on legislation that isn't backed by a majority of his House Republican conference.

Historically, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voting districts with histories of racial discrimination have been compelled to seek federal approval for new voting policies, but in June the Supreme Court struck down the Section Four formula that determines which districts must seek that approval. At Wednesday's 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington, the Voting Rights Act figured prominently in activists' calls for change.

Congress now must rewrite that section, for the Voting Rights Act's federal-review requirement to stand.

Jealous praised GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner for recent comments at a Republican National Committee gathering that the Voting Rights Act should be addressed by Congress.

"We believe that when the time comes for the vote, the majority of the U.S. Congress will be prepared to restore Section Four of the Voting Rights Act," Jealous said.

The NAACP president also said he would have liked to see Republican speakers at Wednesday's 50th anniversary rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Sen. Tim Scott's, R-S.C., office said he was not invited, despite being the only black member of the U.S. Senate.

"I would have liked to have seen Republican speakers at that," Jealous said, responding to a submitted audience question about the GOP's absence onstage. "There are messages that could have been brought."

Jealous said the GOP is still dealing with the "Faustian bargain" of its Southern Strategy, now that minority populations are growing in the U.S.

"The Republican Party has a proud legacy when it comes to civil rights, but they made a Faustian bargain about 40 years ago with the Southern campaign, and now they are being called to reckon for it, because our country is becoming a majority people of color," Jealous said. "They need to ask themselves, Can they survive with that bargain, or do they need to go back to their deeper roots?"

Jealous spoke at length about racial profiling and New York's stop-and-frisk law, accusing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg of using "scare tactics" to promote a law that "slandered an entire generation of New York City's children."

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