ATLANTA (AP) — 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 under increasing threat heading into the 2020 election.
Obama, speaking from the pulpit of the church that Martin Luther King Jr. once led, called on Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court diminished in 2012.
“You want to honor John, let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for,” Obama said.
Obama endorsed ending the Senate filibuster if that is what’s needed to pass an overhauled voting law. The first Black president 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, and Democrats want to name the act after Lewis. But it faces opposition in the Republican-led Senate.
Obama did not name President Donald Trump or any GOP congressional leaders, and he noted that the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its renewal over the years have drawn Republican and Democratic votes in Congress and been signed by presidents from both parties.
But, he said, “There are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws.”
Obama’s eulogy for Lewis came hours after Trump suggested delaying the November election, something he doesn’t have the authority to do. Trump has falsely claimed that increased use of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic will threaten the election’s legitimacy.
Lewis, who died July 17 at the age of 80, was among the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. He was an original member of the Freedom Riders, activists who challenged segregated bus lines in Southern states, and he was badly beaten by Alabama State Troopers in 1965 as he led a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama.
Obama awarded Lewis the Medal of Freedom in 2011.