The Voting Rights Act Turns 50 Today | Sojourners

The Voting Rights Act Turns 50 Today

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, passed Aug, 6, 1965. The act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created key provisions to prevent racial discrimination in voting laws.

Passed at the height of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act includes a section (Section 2) that prohibits state and local governments from enacting any voting law that would result in discrimnation against minorities. Another section (Section 4) bars certain states with a history of racial discrimination from changing any voter laws — including voter identification and redisctricting — without securing approval from the federal government. 

The Voting Rights Act has been called "the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress."

Today's anniversary is a bittersweet commemoration. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4, which had required Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia to seek federal approval before imposing changes to voter laws.

The Supreme Court ruled that the states listed in this section were "based on 40-year-old facts" that had "no logical relationship to the present day."

According to The New York Times, the decision "blocked the voting act’s most potent enforcement tool, federal oversight of election laws in numerous states, including Texas, with histories of racial discrimination. While the federal act still bans laws that suppress minority voting, it has been uncertain exactly what kinds of measures cross the legal line since that Supreme Court ruling."

And these lines are being tested. Just yesterday, a federal appeals panel ruled a Texas voter ID law to be discirminatory towards black and Hispanic voters and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. 

And last week, the Department of Justice and civil rights groups concluded a trial on whether the state of North Carolina deliberately sought to supress black voting through its election law, H.B. 589, passed weeks after the Supreme Court's ruling in 2013.

Read the full text of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 here.