In 2013 the United States Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to the 1964 Voting Rights Act.
The ruling was a green light to legislators and governors in Republican led states around the nation who almost immediately began passing a slate of initiatives they described as protections against voter fraud but were in reality, a thinly veiled excuse for disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of vulnerable voters that included minorities, students and the elderly—the very people the 1964 Voting Rights Act was designed to protect. Until the Supreme Court ruling, the 1964 Voting Rights Act had curbed such race-based voter discrimination and helped guarantee all Americans the equal right to vote.
In recent weeks, courts have struck down several such Republican initiated laws that impinged on voting rights in five states, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Dakota, and Texas. Certainly, these rulings are major victories for voting rights advocates; however, there is still much work to do. Voting restrictions remain in place in at least twelve other states.
In the meantime, the United States Congress has failed to act on proposed, bi-partisan voting rights legislation, the Voting Rights Advancement Act. The law would purportedly repair much of the damage inflicted on voting rights by the 2013 Supreme Court decision.
On July 23, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote to Senator Charles Grassley, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, regarding the pending voting rights legislation. The letter opened as follows, “Just months before the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), we write to express our frustration that a bill to help restore the law continues to languish in the committee you chair. More than three years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating Shelby County v. Holder decision, voters across the country desperately need Congress to take action to protect their rights.”
The bill has languished in Grassley’s committee for more than a year. The letter urged him to reconsider his position and hold a hearing. It ended with the following admonishment, “Your failure to do this would be a disappointing abdication of your responsibility to Congress and to the nation.”