Editor’s note: The following remarks were made on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Nov. 3 by Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on debating the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Senate Republicans later that day blocked legislation to restore parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings, making it the second major voting bill to be derailed by a GOP filibuster in the past two weeks:

The Senate today has the opportunity to live up to its best traditions and put our democracy over party. Later today, we will take the first step that could put us on the path to having an open debate about the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

I have championed and sponsored this bill to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 for years. Today, senators of both parties have the chance to show they are willing to do the job we have been elected to do — to debate and vote on legislation. And no legislation could be more foundational to our democracy than that which protects the right to vote. Today, I hope we as a Senate will honor the rich bipartisan history around the Voting Rights Act — in the name of our hero, John Lewis, in the name of our democracy, and in the name of a foundational value that is the bedrock of our country.

Just yesterday, we announced a bipartisan compromise in the hopes of building support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. I am grateful to Senators Murkowski, Durbin and Manchin for their dedication to reaching this compromise. That bill — which we would seek to advance after proceeding to S.4, will fully restore the Voting Rights Act, in the wake of two devastating decisions by the Supreme Court. I have been clear that, should the Senate eventually proceed to this bill, I welcome amendments to further strengthen and solidify this restoration of the Voting Rights Act which has, after all, been bipartisan since its first enactment.

But we should at least have that debate. That is why we are here. To debate and vote on bills. There is simply no reason for any senator to look at their constituents and say that this topic — that of protecting the right to vote — is just too political, too controversial. Not the Voting Rights Act. Not a voting rights bill that has a 56-year history of bipartisanship. Is that the message we want to convey to American voters eager to know what the Senate is doing to protect and strengthen our democracy? Ours is the longest surviving democracy in history. The American people are watching, and the world is watching, what we do.

Restoring and updating the Voting Rights Acts on a bipartisan basis is how we have always done it. The core provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been reauthorized five times. Every time, this has been done with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush all signed Voting Rights Act reauthorizations into law, touting the profound importance of the landmark law for our democracy. The most recent Voting Rights Act reauthorization in 2006 was a 98 to 0 vote in the Senate. Senators still serving today, both Republican and Democrat, voted to support that legislation. The compromise bill I have crafted with Senator Murkowski follows the very same blueprint of these other bipartisan efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act.

I hope that the toxic partisanship of American politics today will not obscure what has for decades united us as Americans, and across party lines. That is the belief that protecting our right to vote — the very right that gives democracy its name — is bigger than party or politics. It is the belief that a system of self-government — a government of, by, and for the people — is one that is worth preserving for generations to come. It is the belief that government exists to serve the will of the people — not the other way around.

I hope that today we will rise above partisanship and do what is right for our democracy. I hope we will show Americans that the Senate is still capable of being the conscience of the nation and a unifying force during a divided time. I still believe we can be the Senate that has acted together to maintain Americans’ — our constituents’ — constitutional right to vote.

When senators come to the floor to cast their votes today, I hope they keep in mind the rich bipartisan history of the Voting Rights Act. I hope they decide to live up to that history. And I hope they are also mindful of how history will remember us. Decades from now, when history tells the story of today’s current threats to democracy, let it also tell the story of senators who rose above the fray to protect the right that gives democracy its very name.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy lives in Middlesex.

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