The Supreme Court struck a blow at the heart of the Voting Rights Act

Today in my Inbox an email from one of my heroes – John Lewis. It is, of course, a public mailing, so I’ll share it right here.

Every year, I head back to the birthplace of a new America — Selma, Alabama — where a determined struggle for voting rights transformed our democracy 50 years ago.

On March 7, 1965, Hosea Williams and I led a band of silent witnesses, 600 nonviolent crusaders, intending to march 50 miles to Montgomery — Alabama’s capital — to demonstrate the need for voting rights in America.

At the foot of the bridge, we were met by Alabama state troopers who trampled peaceful protestors with horses and shot tear gas into the crowd. I was hit on the head with a nightstick and suffered a concussion on the bridge.

I thought that was going to be my last demonstration. I thought I might die that day.

We knew the dangers that lay ahead, but we marched anyway hoping to usher in a more fair society — a place where every American would be able to freely exercise their constitutional right to vote, and each of us would have an equal voice in the democratic process.

We knew that standing up for our rights could be a death warrant. But we felt it would be better to die than to live with injustice.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, it was a great day. The Act made the ballot box immediately more accessible to millions of Americans of every race, gender, region, economic status, and national origin. It has been called the most effective legislation of the last 50 years.

The Voting Rights Act | The White House

Quote: I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote. I'm not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. Byline: John Lewis August 24, 2013

But just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck a blow at the heart of the Voting Rights Act, nullifying a key provision that had curbed discriminatory voting rules and statutes from becoming law. As soon as the Court’s decision was announced, states began implementing restrictive voting laws. While some states are changing laws to increase the number of Americans who are able to participate in our democracy, by increasing early voting days and making it easier for people to cast a ballot, far too many states are passing new laws that make it harder and more difficult to vote. Early voting and voter registration drives have been restricted. Same-day voting has been eliminated in some cases. Strict photo identification laws have been adopted, and improper purges of the voting rolls are negating access to thousands, perhaps millions, who have voted for decades. That’s why people are still marching for this cause today. Even as we speak, the NAACP is leading a 40-day, 40-night march from Selma to Washington, D.C. in support of a number of issues, including the issue of voting rights. As citizens, it is our duty to make sure that our political process remains open to every eligible voter, and that every citizen can freely participate in the democratic process. And when it comes time to get out and vote — we have to do so. The right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent, transformative tool we have in a democracy, and the least we can do is take full advantage of the opportunity to make our voices heard. Today at 2 p.m. ET, I’m joining President Obama for an important conversation on protecting voting rights — and I hope you’ll join us. Tune in here. Despite the challenges, I am still hopeful — but we must remain determined. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each and every one of us, each generation, must do our part to help create a more perfect union. Keep marching on. John Lewis Member of Congress The Voting Rights Act | The White House

Quote: The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It's the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we've got to use it. Byline: John Lewis August 24, 2014



  1. sambarge says

    After generations of growth, the franchise is shrinking by design in the western world. I know that Canada has passed legislation that will make it harder for students, the elderly and the poor to vote. Attempts to get an injunction on the new rules for our October 19 election have not been successful, although there will be another hearing soon.

    That’s why everyone who can vote, must. If you believe in progressive politics, find a candidate that you can support, let them know why you’re supporting them and then vote. We owe it to the people in our country(ies) who are being systemically excluded from the franchise to elect a government that will reverse those trends.

  2. rjw1 says

    @1 sambarge,

    Yes, the franchise seems to be under attack in other countries as well.
    Recently a conservative state government here in Australia attempted to make voting more difficult for people on lower incomes by introducing some of the measures mentioned in the article, perhaps the idea came from the U.S. Luckily the regime was voted out of office at the next election and replaced by a more progressive administration.

    We also have compulsory voting which seems to appall most Americans, however it makes it more difficult to gradually exclude voters from participation.

    Voting rights should have been secured long ago.

  3. Dark Jaguar says

    I think that they really did gut the act. I want to be devil’s advocate for one uncomfortable second and say I do kinda get the logic of an act targetting specific states for, basically, ever, but there IS a fix if congress can get their act together. That’s it, that’s all I can say in the decision’s defense, and it isn’t much.

    I’d say that ALL state voting practices should be subject to this sort of review as a good workaround. To be sure that certain states get more scrutiny, those states that fail would get flagged for additional review on their submitted changes for a period of, let’s say, 10 years. Would this be a good compromise? Are there any chances that congress would actually pass such a thing? The benefit of this is that states that previously weren’t under any sort of review before wouldn’t be able to get away with anything fishy. States change over time, and that means some states that were more progressive in the past might, as time goes on, do something completely boneheaded. As an example: Oklahoma, basically all of it.

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