The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is both a symbol and sword. It embodies the nation’s aspirations toward greater political fairness and stands as a defense against efforts to stray from these commitments. The Act is generally regarded as our nation’s most effective federal civil rights statute, and includes a set of very powerful and important tools for combating persisting discrimination against minority voters. It is the law that first made the promises of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments meaningful in the area of voting.
Although the Act contains a number of provisions addressing various forms of voting discrimination, the Section 5 “preclearance” provision plays a particularly critical role. By requiring officials to fully explain their purpose and impact, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act shines a light on the big impact that even small voting changes can have on the position of minority voters and on their ability to participate equally in the political process.