‘Our backs are against the wall’: Civil rights leaders urge Biden and Congress to act on voting rights

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Marc Morial, Al Sharpton and Sherrilyn Ifill speak with reporters after a White House meeting with President Joe Biden on critical voting rights protections on 8 July. (AFP via Getty Images)
Marc Morial, Al Sharpton and Sherrilyn Ifill speak with reporters after a White House meeting with President Joe Biden on critical voting rights protections on 8 July. (AFP via Getty Images)

A group of civil rights leaders urged President Joe Biden to use the White House bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act on critical voting rights legislation.

Their meeting on 8 July follows a US Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act, its second decision in the last decade to undermine a portion of the landmark civil rights law, and a blockade from Senate Republicans against a sweeping expansion of voting rights that Democrats had hoped to serve as an antidote to GOP-sponsored laws in several states.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said in a statement that the nearly two-hour meeting was “encouraging” but added that “ultimately, Congress must act with great urgency to pass meaningful legislation to protect the sacred right to vote.”

“Time is of the essence,” he said.

Last month, the US Department of Justice announced it was suing the state of Georgia over its recently passed elections law, which US Attorney General Merrick Garland alleges was “enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or colour” in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“We will not be able to litigate our way out of this threat to Black citizenship, voting and political participation,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We must have the president use his voice, use his influence, use his power, and use what he clearly understands about this moment,” she said.

The president must “put all the options on the table, figure out what can work, keep talking, keep pressing and move forward,” she added, warning that “our backs are against the wall.”

On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a $25m voting rights campaign with the Democratic National Committee, which will organise “the largest voter protection team we’ve ever had to ensure all Americans can vote, and have your votes counted in a fair and transparent process,” she said.

Buoyed by Donald Trump’s persistent “stolen election” lies under the guise of preserving “election integrity,” Republican leadership in at least 17 states have enacted at least 28 new laws that restrict access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

A parallel effort from GOP lawmakers has seen more than 200 bills in 41 states that give themselves more authority over the electoral process, according to the States United Democracy Center. At least 24 of those bills have been signed into law.

National Urban League president and former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial called the coordinated GOP blitz in nearly every state legislature “an effort to impose a system of American apartheid.”

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