Bush Signs Voting Rights Act Extension
President Vows to Build on 'Legal Equality' Won in Civil Rights Era
By Hamil R. Harris and Michael Abramowitz
Copyright by The Washington Post
Friday, July 28, 2006; Page A03
Joined by stalwarts of the civil rights movement, President Bush yesterday signed into law a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act, the historic legislation that opened the ballot box to millions of blacks across the South in the 1960s.
Under the legislation, the Justice Department will maintain the authority to review changes in ballot procedures, legislative districts and other electoral rules in several states, mainly in the South, to ensure that African Americans and other minorities maintain influence in elections.
"By reauthorizing this act, Congress has reaffirmed its belief that all men are created equal," Bush said as he looked into a crowd of people waving church fans bearing the image of the American flag. He vowed "to continue to build on the legal equality won by the civil rights movement to help ensure that every person enjoys the opportunity that this great land of liberty offers."
GOP leaders have been eager to renew the act before the fall elections, but the measure had faced trouble in the House over concern from some Republicans that it unfairly targeted certain Southern states. But House leaders managed to defeat amendments they regarded as politically embarrassing, and the Senate passed the measure last week with little debate.
Bush signed the bill with considerable fanfare on the White House's South Lawn, joined by civil rights leaders who often have been at odds with his administration. They included NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, Jesse L. Jackson and Al Sharpton. Also present were family members of three prominent civil rights figures whose names are attached to the legislation: Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and Fannie Lou Hamer, who was beaten and jailed in 1962 trying to register to vote in Mississippi.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) called the ceremony historic because of those who attended. "It is enormously impressive to see George Bush and Julian Bond exchange salutes. It is a great day for America," he said. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) said that even though Bush signed the Voting Rights bill, the relationship between Bush and black America has not changed. "He is the same George Bush; on some issues we work together, and on most issues we are not able to work together," he said.
Also present at the ceremony was Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), who is under federal investigation in a corruption case. Jefferson said he felt compelled to come to the White House because, he said, "I grew up in a time when my mother couldn't vote. This is real big step for many of us."