Voting Rights Act 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a very important piece of legislation in the history of American civil rights. The voting rights act has a long history of alterations and revisions before it was consented in 1965. The effects of the legislation had, and still have far reaching implications. The Voting Rights Act of 1965was assented to law by the then president Lyndon Johnson on the sixth of August in 1965. The new legislation outlined the disenfranchisement of African Americans characterized by discriminatory voting practices that were adopted by many Southern states after the end of the civil war.
The disenfranchisement of the African Americans also involved literacy tests that were a prerequisite for voting. The passing of this legislation outlawed all these practices. In this paper, I will be exploring the Voting Rights Act of 1965with regards to the background of the legislation, the revisions and alterations that were made to the original legislation and the impact that the legislation had on the American Society. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively rolled out the process to end the disenfranchisement of African American citizens and other racial minorities and set a new precedent in civil rights.
Background of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
When the United States Constitution was ratified initially, it gave every state the absolute discretion to decide the voting qualifications for the citizens residing in the state. Three Reconstruction Amendments were consented after the end of the civil war. The amendments effectively limited the absolute discretion that states enjoyed. The Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 prohibited slavery. The fourteenth Amendment ratified in 1868 granted citizenship to all people, whether they were born or naturalized. The amendment also guaranteed American citizens the right to equal protection and due process.
The third reconstruction amendment was the Fifteenth Amendment that was ratified in 1870. This amendment explicitly limited the powers of the state to determine the qualifications of voters. This amendment provided that the right to vote for American citizens would not be denied on the account of their color race of earlier condition of servitude. After the ratification of the three reconstruction amendments, the American Congress passed Enforcement Acts supposed to implement the amendments. The Enforcement Act of 1870 made the abridgement of voting rights a criminal act.
The Enforcement Act of 1871 provided that the federal government would supervise the electoral process, up to and including voter registration. However, parts of the legislation were abolished by the Supreme Court in 1875 as it termed them unconstitutional in landmark rulings. Following his, the enforcement of the laws became virtually unsupervised and unharmonious. Most of the provisions of the laws were also repealed by Congress in 1894. Southern states in the United States sought to disenfranchise minority groups as determined by race during and even after the reconstruction.
On the period between 1868 and 1888 southern states perpetrated violence and electoral fraud characterized by the suppression of the African American right to vote. Between 1888 and 1908, most southern states legalized the disenfranchisement of racial minorities. They also amended their constitutions and passed laws that legalized poll taxes, good character tests, literacy tests, property ownership requirements and the requirement for applicants to interpret certain documents before they could be registered as voters.
Another draconian law that disenfranchised racial minorities was the grandfather clause that could only allow one to vote provided that their grandfather was eligible to vote. This effectively locked out the black minorities because most of their grandfathers were ineligible to vote. During this entire period, the Supreme Court held that it lacked the remedial powers necessary to force the states to allow racial minorities to vote.
Frantic efforts to ensure the permanence of voting rights for racial minorities were reaching heights in the 1950s. During this period, the American Civil Rights Movement added pressure on the government. Owing to this, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed by Congress. This was the first legislation addressing the voting rights of racial minorities since the Reconstruction Era. Then act gave the Attorney General the powers to seek injunctive relief through judicial proceedings for the persons whose rights as provided for by the Fifteenth Amendment were abridged. The act also led to the creation of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.
This division was tasked to enforce rights by way of litigation. The act also commissioned the Commission on Civil Rights, tasked to investigate the deprivation of voting rights. Another Civil Rights Act of 1960 gave mandate to federal courts to oversee voter registration by conducting referees in those jurisdictions that abridged the voting rights of racial minorities. This was effective to some extend because the voter registration rates for African Americans in the South improved, though marginally. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was in response to widespread discrimination of racial minorities.
The act expanded voting rights by extending literacy rights to all voters, and abolishing voter rejection due to dismal errors and institutionalizing the presumption that those who schooled past the sixth grade were amply literate to vote. The 1964 elections shifted the focus and approach and the then elected president acknowledged the state of affairs. The violence that rocked states like Alabama and deaths during clashes between the police and demonstrating people, especially the violent events in Selma gained the attention of the new president, Lyndon Johnson. It was during his speech to Congress that the president called upon the house to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was brought into the Congress on the seventeenth day of March in 1965. With the progression of the years, this bill has been altered and revised severally. Pending the expiry of the provisions of the legislation as established in 1965, the Congress discussed the need to extend the special provisions of the legislation. The decision was influence by the fact that even after its enactment; considerable voter discrimination still existed, even though racial discrimination during voting had reduced marginally. After a tussle between the two houses, the legislation was passed in 1970 as the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970. Consequently, the special provisions in the act were extended for another five years. The legislation was revisited in 1975 prior to its expiry. There was general consensus that the law was still necessary as a remedial action to the unabated racial discrimination during voting. The amendments passed by the law extended the provisions for a period of even years, unlike previous times. This revision of the legislation expanded to voting rights to other minority groups that were previously not protected by the original Act. Another revision of the legislation was carried out in 1982 prior to its expiration. After many deliberations concerning the clauses to be amended, the legislation was assented to in June of 1982.
The amendments included national and state coverage with the exception of state and local governments that proved that they complied with the provisions of the Act. The procedure for bailout was also amended in order to allow local governments to bail out irrespective of whether the parent state was covered. Under this revision, the special provisions were extended for a period of twenty five years. The bilingual election requirement was only extended for ten years. As such, in 1992, the legislation was set for a revision.
The amendments proposed and passed in this year included extending the bilingual election requirement by fifteen years so that it could expire in 2007 together with the special provisions. The legislation was also amended to expand the coverage formula. The bilingual election requirement was also expanded to cover areas with more than 10,000 persons of any of the language minorities. This amendment was passed in 1992. The legislation was lastly revised in 2006 prior to the expiration of the bilingual election requirement and special provisions. The bill was passed unanimously and was assented into law one year before the 2007 expiration date.
Significance of the Legislation on the American Society
The passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was very significant to the American society. For a long time, the racial minorities were overlooked and castigated. They were not allowed to vote and any provisions from pervious laws subjected them to a host of tests before they could be allowed to vote. Other laws that were passed technically locked out the racial minorities. However, the passage of this legislation guaranteed the racial minorities the right to vote. Although these rights were not enforced immediately, they provided the platform for revisions and alterations that improved the status of racial minorities in America. The prelude to the passing of the legislation also strengthened civil rights movements in America.
Owing to the passing of this legislation, civil rights in the American society are guaranteed. People who become citizens, whether by birth or naturalization are eligible to vote provided that they are registered. The federal government not only guarantees this right but also creates an enabling environment through bilingual translation for those American citizens who are not conversant with English.
American society is coveted for its civil rights. This status can be traced back the struggle against the disenfranchisement of racial minorities in the nineteenth century. However, the progress was slow since the onset of the twentieth century. The speed with which civil liberties and rights were achieved sped up after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act provided a platform and a new sense of urgency for the protection of voting rights for racial minorities. The subsequent revisions and alterations of the legislation have edged closer to the permanence of voting rights for all citizens in America, their race and color notwithstanding. This is evidenced by the nature of the deliberations on the two houses before the laws are passed and the increasing years by which the provisions of the legislation are extended. All in all, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively rolled out the process to end the disenfranchisement of African American citizens and other racial minorities and set a new precedent in civil rights.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Pub. L. 89-110. 79 Stat 437
The Enforcement Act of 1871 Pub. L. 42−22, 17 Stat. 13
The Civil Rights Act of 1957, Pub.L. 85–315, 71 Stat. 634,
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 Pub.L. 86–449, 74 Stat. 89,
The Enforcement Act of 1870, Pub.L. 16 Stat 140
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Pub.L. 88–352, 78 Stat. 241