Another Year of Voting Rights Protection

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed one of our nation’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation into law: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With the passage of this Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting laws and established federal oversight of election practices in jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting, Congress fulfilled the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment’s fundamental guarantee that the right of citizens to vote shall not be “denied or abridged,” ratified by We the People nearly a century earlier.

The Voting Rights Act is widely viewed as one of the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation in our nation’s history, having brought an end to the “Jim Crow” era of systemic, codified disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the United States. Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar recently called the Act “one of the most important statutes in world history.”

Despite this recognition, however, and despite abundant evidence the Act is still working to guard against re-encroachment of voting disenfranchisement, the Voting Rights Act is currently in peril. In June, in its decision in the NAMUDNO case, the Supreme Court came dangerously close to striking down a critical portion of the Act, casting doubt on the constitutionality of Congress’s 2006 decision to reauthorize the provision for another 25 years. As we discussed in our “friend of the court” brief with the Court in that case, and our associated report entitled The Shield of National Protection, the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment clearly gives Congress broad authority to enforce protection of the right to vote through “appropriate legislation” such as the Voting Rights Act, and its decision to reauthorize the Act should therefore be left in place.

Let’s hope on this historic day – on which the Senate confirmed the first Latina Supreme Court justice, nominated by the first African-American president of the United States – our leaders in Congress and on the Supreme Court can take a moment to acknowledge the enormous accomplishments of this iconic statute, as well as the need to preserve its protections for another generation of Americans.