The Rachel Maddow Show | February 27, 2013
>>> selma sprang overnight from an obscure southern town to the front pages of world newspapers. this church was headquarters in the negro drive for the right to vote, and it was here that martin luther king came to lend his support to the campaign. he pointed out that from selma 's 14,000 negroes, only a few more than 300 had been registered at the polls. when one group set out to march to the capitol at montgomery , the procession was broken up violently by state troopers and sheriff's deputies.
>> on bloody sunday, nearly 50 years ago, hosea williams from dr. martin luther king jr . organization led 600 peaceful nonviolent protesters attempting to march from selma to montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in the state of alabama throughout the south and our nation. as we crossed the edmund pettus bridge , we were met by state troopers who shot us with tear gas , mao beat us with nightsticks and trampled us with horses. i was hit on the head and suffered a concussion on the bridge. 17 of us went to the hospital on that day, the good samaritan hospital in downtown selma . just eight days later, president lyndon johnson introduced the voting rights act , and later, on august 6th , 1965 , he signed that act into law.
>> that was congressman john lewis , democrat of georgia who led the march on the edmund pettus bridge in selma that day in 1965 . he was speaking about that experience today on the steps of the supreme court . as the conservative majority on the court seemed to indicate a willingness to at least considering dismantling the pill loofrs the voting rights act first passed in 1965 in the aftermath of that violent day in selma . congressman john lewis , it's such an honor to have you here.
>> thank you so much for having me here. i'm honored to be here.
>> that is crazy, because it is intimidating to talk about this history knowing that you are here, able to tell it yourself. and when we are thinking about the voting rights act being at risk, it brings into very sharp relief how very hard-fought it was. i hope you don't mind me asking you about some of the history. when a week after you were beaten so badly on that bridge in 1965 , the president of the united states holds a joint session of congress and gives that speech and introduces the voting rights act , where were you? did you watch the speech? how did you react to that?
>> on the night of march 16th , 1965 , when president lyndon johnson delivered that speech, i was in the home of a local family with dr. martin luther king jr . watching and listening to the president. and at one point when president lyndon johnson said "and we shall overcome", i looked at dr. king. tears came down his face. he started crying. i cried a little. and dr. king said we will make it from selma to montgomery . and the voting rights act will be passed. when i look back on that speech, i think it was one of the most meaningful speeches any american president have given on the whole question of voting rights or civil rights .
>> what do you make of the arguments today that however hard-fought it was in 1965 to get there, that the remedies that were designed to deal with those problems should no longer apply today, that in effect, as justice roberts said, the south is no longer the south . these problems are solved. we don't need these remedies anymore.
>> i grew up in the south . i lived in the south . i tasted the bitter fruits of racism. i saw discrimination with my own eyes. i felt it. we made progress, but we're not there yet. there are still methods and means, devices that have been used to make it hard, to make it difficult for people to participate in a democratic process . and it's not just african-american, but it's seniors, students, asian american , latinos, and the movement was saying in effect open up the system and let all of the people come in. let everyone participate. my fear if we get rid of section 5, we will go farther and farther back. we made progress, but i say over and over again, we're not there yet. so you can argue oh we have an african- american president . we elected some african-american, latino officials, some asian american officials. but i tell you, in some of these towns and communities in the south still represent the old south .
>> on the issue of section 5 specifically, which gives the federal government special power to prevent states and localities from doing things that are deemed to be discriminatory, it doesn't let them do them and then make them subject to lawsuits on behalf, it stops them from doing them. so it is sort of an extraordinary federal power . that's what congress was considering the extension of in 2006 when it was up for its -- after 25 years after having been renewed. ten months of hearings, ten months of debate, 21 hearings, 15,000 pages of evidence, and the vote ultimately in the house was nearly unanimous. in the senate it was 98-0. that would seem to be a thorough examination of whether or not section 5 was still needed. justice scalia today said we shouldn't trust that vote as a real vote. instead that was a demonstration that there is some sort of racial entitlement around this issue, and the vote effectively isn't honest.
>> i was shocked. i couldn't believe that a member of the united states supreme court , it was just nonsense. it was almost the verge of some racist feeling of another period. and it pained me to hear a member of the supreme court saying something like this. to protect the right to vote, to participate in a democratic process , you're going to suggest that it's some racial entitlement? we all have a right to vote. well all have a right to participate in a democratic process . one person, one vote. the congress, we represent the american people , the house and the senate. we work hard in a bipartisan coalition to extend the voting rights act in 2006 .
>> 98-0 is a heck of a coalition. that happens on almost nothing. but the supreme court is thinking that wasn't enough. it's remarkable to be there today. and it is remarkable to have you here, sir. congressman john lewis , democrat of georgia. it's truly an honor. thank you, sir.
>> thank you very much for having me.
>> thank you.
>> all right. we'll be right