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The Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an important piece of legislation that was enacted to outlaw discriminatory voting practices that some Southern states allowed after the end of the Reconstruction Era. These States wrote new legislation that were designed to deny Blacks the right to vote by using literacy test, poll taxes, grandfather clauses as well as violence and intimidation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 established Federal oversight of the election administration in Southern states with a history of discriminating against blacks in the election process. Those Southern states could not make changes to the voting process without approval from the United States Department of Justice, a process known as preclearance.

The Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes the rights of citizens to vote, it reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

With the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2 echoes the language of the 15th Amendment as it bans any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in the denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen…to vote on account of race or color.” 42 U. S. C. §1973(a).

In 1970, Congress reauthorized the Act for another five years, and extended the coverage formula in §4(b) to jurisdictions that had a voting test and less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout as of 1968. Congress also amended the definition of “test or device” to include the practice of providing English-only voting materials in places where over five percent of voting-age citizens spoke a single language other than English.

Section 4 and 5 of the Act were recently challenged in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al. and argued before the United States Supreme Court. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act “freezes election practices or procedures in certain states until the new procedures have been subjected to review, either after an administrative review by the United States Attorney General, or after a lawsuit before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.” This meant Southern states voting processes that historically discriminated against Black voters were analyzed in accordance with Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 4, used a “coverage formula” that identified these Southern states known as a “covered jurisdiction” and subjected them to preclearance by the United States Department of Justice prior to making any changes to its voting processes.

Further as the Hispanic population grew in some “covered jurisdictions” Section 5 was later amended to forbid “voting changes with any discriminatory purpose as well as voting changes that diminish the ability of citizens, on account of race, color, or language minority status, to elect their preferred candidates of choice.”

The petitioner, Shelby County in the “covered jurisdiction” State of Alabama, challenged the coverage formula and preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act by filing a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Shelby County argued that Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary as times have changed since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act in 1965, besides Blacks are no longer blatantly barred from the election process.

The Court ruled in favor of Shelby County declaring Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This ruling allows the Southern states to make changes in their voting processes such as requiring valid government identification from voters, redistricting voting districts all without preclearance from the United States Department of Justice.

There are certain to be lawsuits challenging individual states voting processes especially those are deemed to be detrimental to African-American and Hispanic voters.

If your voting rights are being violated contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York. We will review your claims thoroughly, providing you with an outline of possible actions you may wish to take. We are ready to be your voice for justice.