The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

June 25, 2013

A look at 48 years of the Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON — The voting law that became a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power is now outdated, the Supreme Court says.

Whether that's a marker of racial progress or proof of backsliding will be hotly debated. But neither side denies that remarkable changes were wrought through the nearly half-century-old Voting Rights Act.

As the issue moves to Congress, a look at the law's history:

15th AMENDMENT

The right to vote, for American men at least, was supposed to be guaranteed when the 15th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution after the Civil War.

The amendment says: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Freed slaves began voting and even winning office, but former Confederate states came up with tactics to evade the 15th Amendment.

These literacy tests, poll taxes and other discriminatory laws, as well as intimidation and violence, continued for decades. In 1940, only 3 percent of eligible blacks in the South were registered to vote, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly a century after the amendment was ratified in 1870, the civil rights movement forced the nation to acknowledge the injustice.

THE MARCH FROM SELMA

Activists who tried to help blacks register in the South in the 1960s were met with violence. The fatal shooting of a demonstrator by a law officer in Alabama inspired the idea of a march to the state capital on March 7, 1965.

Hundreds of marchers on their way to Montgomery were clubbed and tear-gassed by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge near Selma. TV news cameras captured what became known as "Bloody Sunday."

Protesters across the country rallied in support of the marchers. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. flew to Selma to lead demonstrations. And President Lyndon Johnson seized the momentum to propel the Voting Rights Act through Congress.

He signed it into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

VOTING RIGHTS ACT

The law outlawed racial discrimination against voters in local, state and federal elections.

Some entire states, as well as counties in other states, were subjected to special federal enforcement, based on a formula used to weigh their record on voting rights. They had to get approval in advance before they could make even minor changes to voting laws, such as moving polling places.

The enforcement provisions were originally seen as emergency measures that might be allowed to expire in 1970 if no longer needed.

But lawmakers extended the provisions in 1970, 1975 and 1982. In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to keep them another 25 years.

"We've made progress toward equality, yet the work for a more perfect union is never ending," President George W. Bush said as he signed the legislation.

NEARLY A HALF CENTURY LATER

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Tuesday effectively halts enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, unless Congress updates it.

The court said Congress has failed to adjust the law to reflect decades of strides toward racial equality. The United States now has a black president; a black justice sits on the Supreme Court. And 48 years after "Bloody Sunday," Selma is governed by a black mayor, Chief Justice John Roberts noted, writing for the court's conservative majority.

The Supreme Court decision means that a host of state and local laws in covered jurisdictions now can take effect without Justice Department approval. Prominent among those are voter identification laws in Alabama and Mississippi.

The other covered states are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and some local jurisdictions in Michigan, are also included.

Enforcement coverage has been triggered by discrimination not only against blacks, but also against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaska Natives and Hispanics.

Under the law, jurisdictions can break away from federal oversight if they show a clean record on voting rights for 10 years. Towns in New Hampshire were released in March.

WHAT'S NEXT

President Barack Obama said the Supreme Court decision was a disappointing setback. He called on Congress to act to rectify the situation.

The Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate find few points of agreement these days, however. And Congress did nothing in response to a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that warned lawmakers that the Voting Rights Act's enforcement formula needed to be updated.

Unless Congress acts, there will be no deterrent to changes that would undermine voting rights, such as redrawing districts to dilute the power of minority voters. Voters can still use lawsuits to challenge such changes.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent, said throwing out effective enforcement was akin to "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

~~~

Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
National and world
  • House Obama Lawsuit.jpg Republican-led House approves lawsuit against President Obama

    Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Russia Putin web.jpg Sanctions could damage Russia

    The sanctions go further than earlier penalties — which had largely targeted individuals — by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Libya web.jpg Thousands flee to Tunisia to escape Libya fighting

    Many diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, have pulled out of the country. With the interim government paralyzed, the fighting threatens the planned opening session of the newly elected parliament on Aug. 4.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obit Robert Drew web.jpg Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies

    Starting in 1960 with “Primary,” Drew produced and sometimes directed a series of television documentaries that took advantage of such innovations as light hand-held cameras that recorded sound and pictures.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obama Ukraine Russia_Hass_W.jpg GOP-led House approves lawsuit against Obama

    The suit will contend that Obama has exceeded his constitutional powers in the way he has enforced the 2010 health care law.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Texas: Gay-marriage ban best for children

    Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage allows the state to promote the birth and upbringing of children in “stable, lasting relationships,” the state’s attorney general argued Tuesday while asking a federal appeals court to reinstate the ban.

    July 30, 2014 1 Story

  • OKCupid, Facebook not alone in studying consumers

    Dating is hard.

    July 29, 2014

  • Abortion-Mississippi_Hass.jpg U.S. appeals court blocks Mississippi abortion law

    The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to overturn Mississippi’s 2012 law requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • U.S. Court: Virginia marriage is for all lovers

    “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws,” Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote.

    July 28, 2014

  • Sierra Leone West Af_Brac-1.jpg New fears about Ebola spread after plane scare

    Patrick Sawyer’s death on Friday has led to tighter screening of airline passengers in West Africa, where an unprecedented outbreak that emerged in March has killed more than 670 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

Featured Ads