The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, was the youngest and last surviving member of the Big Six civil rights activists who led the fight to end legalized segregation and overturn Jim Crow laws. He was arrested dozens of times and also beaten as a Freedom Rider. Alex Wong/Getty Images.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed legislation last week to name a U.S. postal office in Atlanta after the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who championed the right to vote and represented the state for more than 30 years.
The bill, H.R. 5577, passed with bipartisan support with 421 votes. One lawmaker, Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, voted present, and 12 members — four Democrats and eight Republicans — missed the vote.
Roy issued a statement on his vote, arguing that while Lewis’ “life of service and commitment to the civil rights movement is unparalleled,” Roy does not “engage in the swamp games of naming buildings while our nation crumbles — including today when we achieved the dubious distinction of $30 trillion in debt.”
The facility that would be named the “John R. Lewis Post Office Building” is at 3900 Crown Rd. SW in Atlanta. The legislation still must pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
“Let us pledge to carry on John’s mission: to strive for a more perfect union and to work to build a world worthy of John Lewis’ legacy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor Tuesday night.
Rep. Nikema Williams, (D-Ga.), currently represents Lewis’ former 5th Congressional District. She sponsored the bill, which was backed by the full congressional delegation, and said in a statement that naming a post office after him “is a proper, lasting tribute to the life of a civil rights hero.”
“It speaks volumes to Congressman Lewis’ legacy that the House of Representatives was so united to honor his memory, but this vote should be the starting point,” she said. “The House must continue channeling our inner John Lewis and create the ‘Beloved Community’ he spoke of by strengthening our democracy through voting rights, passing common sense gun control legislation, and legislating out of compassion.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat, has sponsored the Senate version of the bill, S. 3033, and his Georgia colleague Sen. Jon Ossoff is a co-sponsor.
Lewis’ legacy as a champion for voting rights has spurred Democrats to try to pass legislation in response to Republican-controlled states that have moved to pass strict voting requirements following the 2020 presidential election.
“John, of course, was a crusader for the right to vote,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “He worked hard throughout his life to ensure that every eligible American could exercise that right, cast a ballot, and have a voice in our government.”
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would bolster the Voting Rights Act by establishing a new formula to require all 50 states to get special permission from the Justice Department before making any changes to voting laws or putting in place new voting requirements, passed in the House.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has tracked that from Jan. 1 to Dec. 7 of 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting voting access.
Senate Republicans have several times blocked debate on any voting rights legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to call a vote to amend the filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation, but two Senate Democrats, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, voted against changing the Senate rules.
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