Rep. Waters Recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act
LOS ANGELES – Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, released the following statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act:
“Today marks fifty years since President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a landmark achievement of the Civil Rights Movement and one of the most consequential bills ever signed into law. It can never be understated how significant the enfranchisement of African Americans was in advancing public policies designed to protect underserved communities, and creating a path to the American Dream for those of us who had been blocked out of the political process. Regardless of the debates in Congress concerning the direction of the country and how we will close the wealth gap, create access to affordable housing, eliminate criminal justice disparities, and address the myriad other challenges facing women and minorities, everything begins with the right to vote.
The VRA not only allowed African Americans the right to vote, but it effectively dealt with the barriers states imposed to disenfranchise black voters. The VRA outlawed voter intimidation, literacy tests, and other forms of voter suppression. Not only was it critical in ensuring African Americans had access to the polls, but it propelled into office a new wave of African American leaders and elected officials across the country. These officials were elected by their communities to guarantee that African Americans, and all underserved and marginalized communities, would have a say in public policymaking and a stake in America’s future. And yet, while we’ve undoubtedly made progress since 1965, our country still needs the Voting Rights Act to guarantee that every American has equal and uninhibited access to the ballot box, free from seemingly benign but no less nefarious forms of voter suppression.
Today, Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures across the country are continuing their concerted efforts to chip away and undermine VRA safeguards. And these efforts have only intensified in the years following the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Shelby County v. Holder. We’ve seen states pass laws to eliminate early voting days, limit absentee voting, and impose strict voter ID requirements all designed to suppress the votes of African Americans, Latinos, young voters, and seniors. As a result, 50 years later, we find ourselves back where we started – fighting for right for minorities to have full protection of their right to vote. Democrats have introduced three pieces of legislation this Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and strengthen voting protections for all citizens in the United States. Republicans, however, have refused to act on any of these bills, nor bring forth a solution of their own. Yet, if we do not act soon, 2016 will be the first election in 50 years where voters do not have the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.
As we reflect on the success and the history of the Voting Rights Act fifty years later, we must remind ourselves why the legislation is so important. When urging Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson explained that the right to vote is "the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice." That sentiment is no less true today than it was fifty years ago.”
In 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which banned poll taxes and literacy tests, and finally gave African Americans equal access to the ballot box. Because of the surge in African American political participation following its implementation, the Voting Rights Act is widely considered the most important and successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted. Recognizing it’s success, Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House came together to reauthorize the legislation in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006. But in 2013, the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted the Voting Rights Act and the federal government’s ability to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. Since the passage of Shelby, 31 states have introduced a total of 82 bills that restrict voters’ access to the polls.