Statement of Representative Adam Schiff on the House Judiciary Committee Passage of the Voting Rights Act Extension

Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Committee on the Judiciary passed the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006.  This legislation extends, for 25 years, the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA) that was signed into law in 1965 to ensure that minority citizens are able to elect representatives of their choice without fear of discrimination or intimidation.  The following is the statement made by Representative Adam Schiff in support of the bill during the debate in the House Judiciary Committee. Representative Schiff is a cosponsor of the legislation.

“I am proud to be a cosponsor of this important legislation, and I am honored to play a role in reauthorizing such a historic civil rights statute.  This critical legislation has been responsible for ensuring that minority citizens are able to elect representatives of their choice. 

“Just over forty one years ago, on March 7, 1965 – what has become known as Bloody Sunday – 600 civil rights marchers peacefully protested for the right to vote.  Upon reaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge, these marchers were attacked by state and local law enforcement officers.  In commemoration of this event, two years ago, I joined a pilgrimage led by my colleague Congressman John Lewis through many of the sites of the civil rights struggles, and we visited that bridge. 

“Standing there then and reflecting on the experience now, I can still feel the power yielded by the right to vote.  It was powerful enough then to garner the hatred of a mob of segregationists, and is still influential enough now to continue to incite debate over the legislation today. 

“Decades since those civil rights activists were beaten with billy clubs and sprayed with tear gas in response to their demands for the right to vote, discrimination still remains pervasive in elections across the nation, from California to Florida.  However, significant progress has been made in the past 41 years since the VRA was first passed.  Minority voters have a much greater voice today because of the VRA.  Despite that, after every election, I still hear stories of voter discrimination and minority intimidation and realize that this legislation remains equally important today and cannot let the temporary provisions of the VRA expire. 

“These expiring provisions – pre-clearance of election law changes for jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, Federal observers at polls, and language assistance for limited-English speakers – serve to deter those seeking to weaken minority voting rights.  It is evident to those from my state of California just how critical language assistance is for those with limited English skills.  In this diverse state, 51 of the 53 congressional districts are subject to language assistance requirements.

We don’t make our elections easy on voters.  In a state where 135 candidates ran for governor three years ago, it should be no surprise that during the 2004 general election, the California voter guidebook was nearly 200 pages.  This guide includes information on candidates and ballot initiatives and helps voters prepare for an election.  Looking at this book when it arrived in the mail, I was able to predict the stories I would hear from my constituents.  But it wasn’t just from those with limited English skills, countless native English speakers shared with me how confusing voting was, how difficult it was to decipher 200 pages of content in preparation for voting.  I can only imagine that it would be nearly impossible for a voter with limited or no English proficiency.  Yet these citizens, too, have the right to vote.  Thankfully, due to the VRA, in my district, our polling sites provide language assistance for Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese and Latino voters. 

"The right to vote for every American citizen is the foundation of our democracy, and unfortunately, there are still barriers to overcome and we as a nation are not ready yet to give up on this legislation that defends every American’s right to vote.  For this reason, I am proud to support the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act and will continue to do my part to ensure that the VRA remains effective and enforced.”