The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on voting rights focusing on Georgia‘s new election law, but before witnesses even began fielding questions there was immediate pushback over how Democrats framed the hearing itself.
The title of Tuesday’s hearing was “Senate Judiciary Hearing – Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote,” echoing a comparison that was famously made by President Biden. Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, testified at the hearing and provided context based on his own history.
“As someone who has actually experienced Jim Crow laws I’d like to set the record straight,” Owens said, asserting that “any comparison between this law and Jim Crow is absolutely outrageous.”
Owens recalled protesting outside a theater where Black people were not allowed to enter, seeing public restrooms designated for White men, White women, and “colored” people. Additionally, he referenced discriminatory practices such as literacy tests, property tests, as well as violence and intimidation “that made it nearly impossible” for Black people to vote.
In comparison, Owens discussed Georgia’s voter identification requirement, which he noted does not even require voters to show an ID card, as they can also provide a bank statement, paycheck, government check, utility bill, or other government documentation with their name and address. Lacking any of these, Owens said, a voter can still fill out a provisional ballot.
Owens also said that 97% of Georgia voters already have ID, and that he does not understand why it is racist to require one.
“What I find extremely offensive is the narrative from the left that Black people are not smart enough, not educated enough, not desirous enough of education to do what every other culture and race does in this country: Get an ID,” he said.
“True racism is this: this projection of the Democratic Party on my proud race,” Owens continued. “It’s called the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
“To call this Jim Crow 2021 is an insult, my friends,” he later said. “For those who never lived Jim Crow, we are not in Jim Crow.”
Ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had also called out Democrats for how they framed Tuesday’s hearing. He accused them of using the hearing as a means of “bullying” Georgia over their efforts to institute election security measures.
“The title of this hearing is offensive,” Grassley said in his opening remarks. He went on to note that Biden continued to push his narrative of Georgia’s law despite The Washington Post giving him four Pinocchios for falsely describing what the law actually says.
Biden had claimed that Georgia’s new law “ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.” In reality, the Post pointed out, voting hours on Election Day will continue to be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and early voting hours will be expanded rather than reduced.
“These claims about Georgia aren’t about truth, they’re about politics,” Grassley said.
Democrats firmly disagreed. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Georgia’s law “the greatest crisis facing our democracy today.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who was testifying as a witness in the hearing, said that after a record number of Georgia residents voted in 2020, lawmakers “responded not in celebration but with retaliation.”
Warnock did not shy away from the Jim Crow comparisons, calling his state’s law “a full-fledged assault on voting rights, unlike anything we have seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
The senator continued to compare the current situation to the Jim Crow South, implying that Georgia’s current law requires action just as Jim Crow laws did.
“If we had not acted in 1965, what would our country look like?” he asked. “Surely I would not be sitting here, only the eleventh Black senator in the history of our country, and the first Black senator in Georgia.”