For the first 48 years of its existence,the Voting Rights Act — signed by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this week — was one of the most popular and effective civil rights laws in American history. Centuries of slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination had kept African-Americans from having any real voice in the nation’s politics. Under the aggressive new law, black voter registration and turnout soared, as did the number of black elected officials. Recognizing its success, Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the act and expanded its protections. The last time, in 2006, overwhelming majorities in both houses extended the law for another 25 years. But only seven years later, in 2013, five Supreme Court justices elbowed in andconcluded, on scant evidence, that there was no longer a need for the law’s most powerful tool; the Voting Rights Act, they claimed, had done its job.
In truth, the battle for voting rights has had to be unrelenting, and the act itself has been under constant assault from the start. As Ari Berman writes in his new history of the law, “Give Us the Ballot,” the act’s revolutionary success “spawned an equally committed group of counterrevolutionaries” who have aimed to dismantle the central achievements of the civil rights movement.
Today there are no poll taxes or literacy tests. Instead there are strict and unnecessary voter-identification requirements, or cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration — all of which are known to disproportionately burden black voters.
The relative subtlety of the newer measures does not make them any less insidious. But it does make them more resistant to charges of illegality. A federal trial that ended last week in North Carolina provided the clearest example of the challenges faced by those who want to protect democracy’s most fundamental right.
Full Article: The Voting Rights Act at 50 – The New York Times.