LDF Statement on the Voting Rights Act at 50

(New York, NY) – The right to vote is at the core of our democratic values. Fifty years ago today, our nation took a historic step forward to increase the right to vote by establishing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  “The Voting Rights Act embodies the strongest commitment to our democratic principles. Its enforcement over 50 years has transformed society and made us a stronger, more representative nation,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) “But, led by the decision in Shelby v. Holder, jurisdictions across the country are stripping away at some of its fundamental protections, just as they are needed more than ever. As we celebrate the Voting Rights Act today, we must also commit to restoring it to its full vitality.”

LDF litigated the first voting rights cases of the 20th Century, Smith v. Allwright that eliminated an exclusionary primary. After Bloody Sunday in 1965, LDF represented the Selma marchers, securing a federal court order to allow the march to proceed. The Voting Rights Act represents the promise of equal democratic participation and immediately removed barriers, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and voucher requirements that had long kept African Americans from even participating in our political system. But, today, voters face new barriers, such as strict photo voter ID rules.

Since 2013, when the Supreme Court eviscerated part of the Voting Rights Act that forced states and municipalities with a history of disenfranchisement to have voting rules reviewed by the Department of Justice, LDF has been fighting to preserve the protections for political participation and representation that are entrenched in our Constitution. Since the rollback of Section 5 of the Act two years ago, states and voting districts have, once again, created barriers to voting that curtail Americans’ voting rights, such as Texas’ burdensome photo voter ID rules. LDF and legal partners won a legal victory yesterday, showing that the TX photo voter ID regulations have a discriminatory impact against voters of color.

Earlier this week, voters and LDF won a significant victory in Fayette County, GA. Under Section 2 of the VRA, the court found that Fayette County’s at-large method of election violated the VRA because it provided less opportunity for Black voters to elect their candidates of choice. To remedy that VRA violation, the court ordered that district-based elections be held going forward, with one district in which Black voters make up the majority of the voting-age population. That district-based voting map will be in effect for the special election in September 2015.

These voting rights cases, and dozens more across the country, show how the Act is still relevant today. “If Congress fails to act now, the upcoming Presidential election will be the first in 50 years held without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. Nothing could be more important to the future of the nation than its full expression of democracy. It’s time to restore Voting Rights Act,” said Ifill.

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For more on the history of the Voting Rights Act and LDF’s history, please see “The Voting Rights Act and LDF, A Fifty Year History” below:

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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”. 

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