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US attorney general tells Bloody Sunday service ‘the right to vote is under attack’


The right to vote in the US is under attack, with sustained efforts to disfranchise Black voters, US attorney general Merrick Garland told a Selma church service commemorating the 59th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday police attack on civil rights activists.

Garland said decisions by the supreme court and lower courts since 2006 have weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The landmark legislation was passed in the wake of the violent attack by Alabama police on unarmed demonstrators – including the late civil rights leader John Lewis – as they tried to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge on 7 March and walk across Alabama in support of voting rights.

“Since those decisions, there has been a dramatic increase in legislative measures that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to vote and to elect the representatives of their choice … such measures threaten the foundation of our system of government.

“Some have even suggested giving state legislatures the power to set aside the choice of the voters themselves. That is not the way a representative democracy is supposed to work,” Garland told people at Selma’s Tabernacle Baptist church, the site of one of the first mass meetings of the voting rights movement.

“The right to vote is still under attack.”

Garland underlined the long and ongoing struggle to guarantee Black Americans and other people of color their vote, which is under threat from gerrymandering, ID requirements and restrictions on early voting in mostly Republican states.

Garland said the Department of Justice was “challenging efforts by states and jurisdictions to implement discriminatory, burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on access to the ballot, including those related to mail-in voting, the use of drop boxes, and voter ID requirements … [and] working to block the adoption of discriminatory redistricting plans that dilute the vote of Black voters and other voters of color”.

Kamala Harris is scheduled to speak after leading the annual march across the bridge on Sunday afternoon. The vice-president will “honor the legacy of the civil rights movement, address the ongoing work to achieve justice for all, and encourage Americans to continue the fight for fundamental freedoms that are under attack throughout the country”, the White House said.

Images of the violence at the bridge 59 years ago shocked many Americans, and helped galvanize support for passing the Voting Rights legislation, which struck down state regulations prohibiting Black people from voting.

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Congressman James Clyburn, a Democrat of South Carolina who is leading a pilgrimage to Selma to mark the anniversary, told the Associated Press that the right to vote is still not guaranteed.

“We are at an inflection point in this country … hopefully this year’s march will allow people to take stock of where we are.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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