Kaz Fantone for NPR
The Department of Justice calls the 1965 Voting Rights Act “the most successful part of the Civil Rights Act ever passed by the United States Congress.”
The law ended literacy tests, which prevented many people from registering to vote, in half a dozen states, gave the state prosecutor the power to send observers to witness the election, and gave the federal government the power to approve voting and electoral changes in places with history. discrimination.
Within a few years of its adoption, the Law on Voting Rights paved the way for thousands of black-and-brown voters to enter the ballot box. The bipartisan majority in Congress re-approved the act five times, most recently in 2006 then-President George W. Bush praised the law and promised to defend her in court.
A significant law has received a different reception in the highest court in recent years. In two decisions, lasting eight years, the conservative majority of Supreme Court judges overturned basic law enforcement powers.
The latest decision, in July, encouraged national marches, including those that should culminate in Washington, DC, on Saturday, the anniversary of the March of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington in 1963.
The gathering comes on its heels Passing the law to annul the Supreme Court and update the Law on Voting Rights. But the prospects for the bill are bleak in a closely divided Congress.
How the law came into being
In the years after the Civil War, the United States adopted three constitutional amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery and forced slavery “except as a punishment for a crime.” The 14th amendment codified citizenship with the right of birth and promised “fair trial”, among other steps. And the 15th amendment gave blacks the right to vote.
For a short period, black voters ran to the ballot box, selecting officials of their choice for high office. But too soon, southern states have enacted their own laws that make it difficult for people of color to vote, including literacy tests, tax surveys and a horrific campaign of violence. By the 1960s, white voter registration in some states was 50 percentage points higher than black voter registration.
“Give us a ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with people of good will and send to the holy halls of Congress people who will not sign the ‘Southern Manifesto’ because of their commitment to the manifesto of justice,” King said this in a major address in Washington in 1957.
Then, in early 1965, armed state soldiers viciously beat up a group of nonviolent marches in Selma, Ala. Footage of those demonstrators sprayed with chemicals and beaten with police batons shocked the country’s conscience and helped then-President Lyndon B. Johnson make a case for the Voting Rights Act.
Months later, Johnson signed the law.
“What history shows is that the kind of federal intervention was the main thing that could affect the systemic change in the problem of racial discrimination in voting,” said Professor Atiba Ellis of Marquette University. said Podcast NPR Policy for his legal series “The Docket.”
What has changed
In 2013, in the case of the so-called Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that many things had changed, that the world had changed since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Decision 5-4 effectively knocked out the Justice Department’s system for pre-approving electoral changes in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, placing a heavy burden on the federal government to identify such changes and sue them to prevent their entry into force. The high court ruling prompted states to impose new voting restrictions.
Then, in July, another conservative judicial majority has seriously weakened the remaining enforcement tools of the Ministry of Justice: a provision that gave the federal government the legal authority to challenge voting laws that discriminate on the basis of race, color, and linguistic minority status.
In Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee,, Judge Samuel Alito concluded that some inconvenience to voters would not be unconstitutional. His majority opinion also gave states a strong defense: they could raise concerns about voter fraud to justify their electoral changes without having to prove that such fraud existed.
Lawsuits by the Ministry of Justice and civil rights groups due to changes in voting in Georgia continue in the courts. But it is not yet clear what fate he will face.
Democrats in Congress are demanding at least two different measures of voting law that would restore the federal government’s executive powers in the ballot box. One got a name the late representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, whose beating on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 horrified a national audience and helped move the Voting Rights Act over a target on Capitol Hill later that year.
But Democrats face mathematical challenges. Under current Senate rules, they need 60 votes, including 10 Republicans, to advance any voting measures. So far, they failed to collect them.
“It’s a critical moment in the fight for voting rights,” said Mahogane Reed of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. said Podcast NPR Policy. “The onslaught of new voting laws is so severe. Congress intervention is absolutely critical.”