Former president Barack Obama slammed the Senate filibuster as a “Jim Crown relic” and urged lawmakers to back statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, during a speech at the memorial service for Georgia congressman John Lewis.
Obama made the comments while calling for the passage of a Democrat-sponsored bill, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That provision required certain states and jurisdictions to receive federal approval before implementing changes to voter registration, redistricting, and other laws pertaining to elections.
The provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 in a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote at the time that the law’s formula for where federal intervention was necessary was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”
“Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better,” Obama said at the memorial service. In addition to making voter registration automatic and declaring election day a national holiday, Obama called for “guaranteeing that each American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico.”
Democrats have long pushed to give the two areas, both with a solid majority of Democratic voters, statehood and formal representation. Republicans have warned against the move, with Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) arguing in June that granting statehood to Washington, D.C., would grant city Democrats “unusual prominence in foreign affairs.”
Obama went on by saying, “If all of this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”
Obama himself used the filibuster in 2006 during his tenure as senator from Illinois in an attempt to block the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.