7 Years without the Voting Rights Act

Demonstrators outside the White House on March 12, 1965 — five days after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama and three days before President Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress. (Photograph by Warren K. Leffler.)

The Voting Rights Act worked

The 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race or color, but it was an empty promise: Congress didn’t step up to enforce that protection for nearly a century. Finally, in 1965, civil rights demonstrations forced President Johnson to act.

“Early attempts to cope with this vile infection resembled battling the Hydra. Whenever one form of voting discrimination was identified and prohibited, others sprang up in its place.”

In other words, preclearance allowed the Justice Department to stay one step ahead of states’ efforts to suppress the vote.

Percentage of Black voters registered in 1965 compared to 2004 in Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, & S.C.

Shelby County was wrongly decided

In Shelby County, the formula used to determine which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance was ruled unconstitutional. In one fell swoop, the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act — the weapon that finally killed the Hydra — was gone.

How we fix it

Chief Justice Roberts even wrote the solution in his opinion itself: “We issue no holding on [preclearance] itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.”

The House Vote on the Voting Rights Advancement Act: 227–187, with only one Republican “Yea.”

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