Voting Rights Act of 1965

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The National Voting Rights Act of 1965[1] authorized, and in some areas required, federal oversight of elections and election laws. Many (but not all) of these areas were in the South, which was at that time controlled by the Democratic Party. The Act gave the Department of Justice the power to approve or reject any change in a voting law in certain districts where less than 50% of the population were registered to vote in 1964.

Sections 2 and 5 are the most important parts of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits racial discrimination in elections nationwide, and is relatively non-controversial. But Section 5 imposes "temporary" restrictions on certain "covered" regions that require those regions (9 states, mostly in the South, are covered in whole, and another 7 states are covered in part) to obtain pre-clearance by the federal government for any changes in election procedures. This "temporary" restriction was intended to last only five years, but has been repeatedly been extended, most recently in 2006 for another 25 years.

Section 4 provides the formula for which jurisdictions are covered by Section 5. The formula was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 in the case Shelby County v. Holder.

The Act also outlawed literacy tests.


The Act was passed by the U.S. Congress over strong opposition within the Democratic Party. President Lyndon Johnson asked Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen for help [2] in breaking the Democratic filibuster. Dirksen spoke on the Senate floor,

The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied. It is here!

Under Johnson, the Senate had not been able to muster enough votes to cut off a filibuster on a Civil Rights Bill. With Republican support, the final count showed 44 Democrats and 27 Republicans voting to end the filibuster, with 23 Democrats and only 6 Republicans opposed. The formal Senate vote on the bill took place on June 19, 1964. It passed overwhelmingly, 73-27.

The final Senate vote on August 4 was 49 Democrats and 30 Republicans in favor, one Republican and 17 Democrats opposed. Segregationists who voted against the Voting Rights Act were J. William Fulbright,[3] awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton, and Al Gore, Sr., father of Democratic Presidential Nominee Al Gore.

Voting Rights Act results by party

The two numbers in each line of this list refer to the number of representatives voting in favor and against the act, respectively.

Senate: 77–19

Democrats: 47–17 (73%-27%)

Republicans: 30–2 (94%-6%)

House: 333–85

Democrats: 221–61 (78%-22%)

Republicans: 112–24 (82%-18%)

Clinton era violations of the Voting Rights Act

In December 1989 a three-judge district federal court found that Bill Clinton had violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court upheld the findings of fact in Clinton vs Jeffers [4] that the Arkansas governor and future Democratic president violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court Justices wrote,

Bill Clinton does not dispute here -- that violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief have occurred in Arkansas. In May 1990, the district court turned to those claims, holding that "the State of Arkansas has committed a number of constitutional violations of the voting rights of black citizens." J.S. App. A5. In particular, the court determined that the "State has systematically and deliberately enacted new majority-vote requirements for municipal offices, in an effort to frustrate black political success in elections traditionally requiring only a plurality to win." In 1990...Devotion to majority rule for local offices lay dormant as long as the plurality system produced white office-holders. But whenever black candidates used this system successfully -- and victory by a plurality has been virtually their only chance of success in at-large elections in majority-white cities – the response was swift and certain. Laws were passed in an attempt to close off this avenue of black political victory.

The court concluded these series of laws passed under Clinton

represents a systematic and deliberate attempt to reduce black political opportunity. Such an attempt is plainly unconstitutional. It replaces a system in which blacks could and did succeed, with one in which they almost certainly cannot.

And most pointedly the

inference of racial motivation is inescapable.


Although the Act is over 40 years old and addresses issues from the early 1960s and before, in 2006 Congress passed a 25-year extension after holding many hearings and collecting over 12000 pages of evidence.[5] 33 House members opposed the 25-year extension, primarily because of the imposition of multilingual balloting. Not a single senator, however, voted against it, and President George W. Bush signed it into law.

The law now imposes a complex system of regulations that include forcing local governments to print multilingual ballots at their own expense, in many different foreign languages.

In recent years it has enabled liberals in Washington, D.C. to block reforms such as voter ID sought by local jurisdictions in 16 states. However, it should be noted that Georgia's voter ID law was precleared and that a three-judge panel allowed South Carolina's voter ID law to take effect (albeit modified by a state interpretation during the trial).[6] The entire State of Texas was subjected to ongoing federal control of its elections until it successfully bails out of being a covered jurisdiction in part because Texas once printed its ballots in English rather than Spanish. Texas has also had more objections to changes in its voting procedures from 1966 to 2004 than any other covered state.[7]

Private cause of action

Citizens can file civil suits under the Voting Rights Act. On February 6, 2015, three African-American citizens filed a suit against the Democratic Party of Virginia because the party used a "fire house" primary/unassembled caucus to select its nominee for a special election to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates created by the resignation of Joseph D. “Joe” Morrissey. Morrissey resigned after he was convicted of taking liberties with a female staff member. The party decided to allow only the 50 voting committee members living in that district to pick a candidate instead of a process that would allow all registered voters to participate. A majority of voters in the district are African- Americans. As a result, the party selected a candidate other than Morrissey, who ran as an independent. Morrissey won the election, and is now serving on a daily release from his prison cell. The suit alleges a Voting Rights Act violation.[8]

See also


  1. 42 U.S.C. § 1973-1973aa-6
  2. Everett McKinley Dirksen's Finest Hour: June 10, 1964, The Peoria Journal Star, June 10, 2004, retrieved from The Dirksen Congressional center 05/20/07.
  3. Picking the Team, TIME Magazine, December 12, 1960.
  4. Findings of the Supreme Court of the United States in Clinton vs Jeffers No. 90-394 (1990) on appeal 730 F. Supp. 196, 198-201 (ED Ark. 1989) (three-judge court), aff'd, No. 89-2008 (Jan. 7, 1991).
  6. South Carolina v. United States (D.D.C. 2012)
  7. Northwest Austin Mun. Utility Dist. No. One v. Mukasey 573 F.Supp.2d. 221, 281 (D.D.C. 2008)
  8. Lazarus, Jeremy. "State Dems hit with voting rights suit", Richmond Free Press, February 6, 2015. Retrieved on February 8, 2015.