The brother of the late Rep. John Lewis speaks at a rally.

Henry Lewis, the brother of the late Rep. John Lewis, (D-Ga.), joined Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and other voting rights advocates on August 12, 2021 to deliver a petition calling on President Joe Biden to leverage the power of his office and publicly urge the Senate to end the filibuster so lawmakers can pass crucial legislation to protect voting rights. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Stand Up America)

Family of John Lewis Joins Demand That Biden Kill Filibuster to Defend Voting Rights

"If President Biden and Senator Schumer truly care about ending the war on voting rights they have to use their political will to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act immediately," said one organizer.

As U.S. census data was released Thursday that critics fear Republicans will exploit to gerrymander their way to a decade or more of minority rule, the family of former congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis was among those demanding President Joe Biden use his power to help end the filibuster to achieve passage of crucial voting rights legislation.

Lewis's family members gathered with civil rights groups including Black Voters Matter, Common Cause, Fix Our Senate, and Stand Up America outside the White House, where they delivered a petition to President Joe Biden, urging him to help "protect our democracy."

The release of population data at the local and congressional district level by the U.S. Census Bureau will inform the redistricting process, which is expected to begin in the coming weeks across the country.

In April, the bureau released state-level data showing population changes, which led to the reapportionment of congressional seats in states including Texas, Florida, and North Carolina--which gained seats--and California and New York, which each lost one.

"All these petition signatures represent voters across the political spectrum who want to see Congress pass the 'For the People Act.'"
--Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause

The GOP will control the redistricting process in 20 states, and voting rights advocates have been warning for months that the party will draw districts that dilute voting power of Democratic voters. Republicans are likely to target communities of color which historically vote heavily for Democrats--particularly without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in place following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

The court struck down the preclearance process which mandated federal oversight of election rule changes in states with histories of discriminatory voting laws.

"I am up late at night often, unable to sleep, pondering how bad or how aggressive some of those states might be in undoing the protections that were granted from Section 5 that no longer are in effect," Jonathan Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow who studies gerrymandering at Carnegie Mellon University, told the New York Times. "And I can imagine that a particularly aggressive legislature, where it benefits them, may not draw minority districts."

With voting rights for millions of Americans hanging in the balance, the groups that gathered at the White House on Thursday called on the president to push for the elimination of the filibuster, which would allow the Senate to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The legislation would ban partisan gerrymandering and restore the former protections of the Voting Rights Act, respectively.

"My late brother used to tell me there are times in our lives when our conscience is going to be put on display," Henry Lewis, the late lawmaker's youngest brother, said Thursday. "I think with these two bills, each senator is going to have to let their conscience be their guide."

The petition delivered by the voting rights advocates was signed by 400,000 people and came a day after a poll by several progressive groups showed a majority of Americans want Biden to convince the Senate to pass voting rights legislation.

"All these petition signatures represent voters across the political spectrum who want to see Congress pass the 'For the People Act,'" said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. "At the grassroots level, Americans are united behind this bill--with some of its provisions receiving 90 to 95% support from voters. The fact that this legislation has been languishing in the Senate since 2019 says everything about what's wrong with our country's politics right now."

The Sunrise Movement compared the census redistricting data released on Thursday to a "ticking time bomb" illustrating the urgent need to ensure that bold voting rights legislation can be passed.

"If the For the People Act isn't passed, Republicans are guaranteed to redraw districts until it's impossible for Democrats to hold power," said Ellen Sciales, communications director for the national climate action group. "They only need five seats... This must be treated as an existential threat to our democracy."

"If President Biden and Senator Schumer truly care about ending the war on voting rights they have to use their political will to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act immediately," added Sciales.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) was succinct on social media about the urgency of the matter:

Fix Our Senate took aim at the Democratic National Committee's and White House's recent suggestions that partisan gerrymandering by the GOP is inevitable and that Democrats will be able to "out-organize" the party to win elections in the next several years.

"Time is running out," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson for the group. "Attacks on our democracy can't be 'out-organized.' We need President Biden to jump into this fight and push Senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation before it's too late."

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