On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress just a week after the clash between authorities and peaceful protesters on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, had scandalized the nation.
“Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books … can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it,” he said. “The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath.”
Introduced two days later and signed into law Aug. 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a landmark piece of legislation that stood as a lasting accomplishment of the civil rights movement for nearly half a century. Among other things, it eliminated artificial barriers to voting (including literacy tests and poll taxes) specifically designed to keep Southern blacks from casting ballots. That was, until 2013 when the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder all but destroyed it.
The high court might just like that one back.
In the wake of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, a flurry of states (including Alabama, North Carolina and Arizona) previously covered by the Voting Rights Act quickly changed their voting laws. And, in the case of North Carolina, the Supreme Court dealt with those changes recently.
“On May 22, it ruled that North Carolina Republicans unlawfully took race into consideration when drawing two majority-black U.S. House of Representatives districts, concentrating black voters in an improper bid to diminish their statewide influence,” Reuters reported. “On May 15, the justices rebuffed a Republican bid to revive a strict North Carolina voter-identification law that a lower court found deliberately discriminated against black voters.”
With the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act being celebrated next month, we must push our legislators on this issue. Anything less is an insult to those who fought for that most fundamental of American freedoms: the right to vote.