It is with great sadness that we at Campaign Legal Center mourn the loss of Congressman Elijah Cummings, a civil rights hero and fervent defender of democracy. He will always be remembered for his inspiring work in advancing voting rights of Americans everywhere.
After serving for over 10 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, Cummings was elected as representative for Maryland’s seventh district in a 1996 special election and was overwhelmingly reelected 12 times.
He became the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Committee in 2011 and became Chairman in 2019. Over the course of his service in Congress, Cummings fought vigorously for voting rights protections, particularly for marginalized and historically disenfranchised groups.
As a congressman, Cummings worked relentlessly to safeguard and advance the protections of the Voting Rights Act.
In 2013, he spoke on the great importance of the Voting Rights Act and the necessity of Section 5’s preclearance provisions: “The Voting Rights Act is often cited as the most effective civil rights law in our history. Section 5 has been one of the most powerful tools in the act because it combats discriminatory attempts to marginalize voters before they can take root. […] Today in the year 2013, Section 5 remains as critical as ever to protecting the right to vote in the United States of America.”
When the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Cummings continuously pressured congressional leadership to bring forward legislation promoting its restoration.
He was a powerful voice in reminding us that the fight to reinstate the Voting Rights Act was bigger than any given election: “Many people died for the right to vote, and it is Congressional malpractice to sit by and watch that right dissolve.”
Cummings served as an instrumental figure in passing HR 1, a landmark bill that would, among other things, expand protections for voting rights.
In the House Oversight’s hearing, which he chaired, Cummings recalled how his mother, a sharecropper, had fought for the right to vote and that her last words were “do not let them take our votes away from us.”
He continued to emphasize, “voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it, there are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right.”
Congressman Cummings also advocated strongly against the Trump Administration’s proposed citizenship question.
He held a hearing on the matter in the Oversight Committee, in which he rightly pointed out that “the Voting Rights Act is an essential tool. It underpins our democracy. But in the more than 50 years since it was signed into law, the Voting Rights Act enforcement has never used citizenship data from every U.S. household.”
Congressman Cumming's tireless work to protect and defend our rights will not be forgotten, and he will forever remain a giant in the ongoing fight to improve American democracy.
This post was written by Sheely Edwards, a 2019 CLC Hinckley intern, and student at the University of Utah.