(CNN) – Longtime congressman and veteran civil rights icon John Lewis said the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act dealt a major blow to minorities in the United States.
“It is awful, it’s a sad day, I never thought that I would see the day when the U.S. Supreme Court would put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” he said Tuesday on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.
The high court ruled in a 5-4 decision that key parts of the law that required states with a history of voter discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making changes in their voter laws were no longer valid.
The prevailing opinion leaves it up to Congress to revise the law so that it’s constitutional.
Proponents of the decision said the now-invalid parts were outdated and an undue burden on states wanting to make even the slightest changes to their voting procedures.
Critics, however, say the decision could lead to voter oppression by allowing states to enact laws that would indirectly discriminate against certain voters.
While backers of the Supreme Court’s ruling – mostly Republicans – say times are different and states no longer need federal accountability to prevent discrimination, Lewis argued that the country isn’t ready yet.
“The question of race is deeply embedded in the American society, and we cannot sweep it under a rug or in some dark corner,” he said.
The Democratic congressman from Georgia, now in his 14th term, said Republicans and Democrats in Congress should come together and reauthorize the Voting Rights Act like they did in 2006.
Reauthorization would give Congress a chance to revisit the law and make changes in a bipartisan manner.
Pressed on whether it was possible for the GOP-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass such legislation, Lewis said, “We can and we must.”
“The vote is powerful,” he continued. “It’s the most powerful, non-violent tool that we have in a democratic society. And we have to do it. We have an obligation to do it.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Tuesday he’s “hopeful” Congress can work together to resolve the issue.
In March, Cantor joined Lewis and a bipartisan delegation for a Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage through Alabama.
“My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all,” Cantor said. “I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected.”
– CNN’s Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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