They were young African-Americans and supporters of equality marching peacefully from Selma, Ala. to the state’s capital to protest the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson by police and the denial of voting rights when they were attacked by scores of state police and others, spewing tear gas beating the protestors with billy clubs. Those brutal, revolting attacks were aired nationally by major TV networks, like ABC would prove a catalyst for one of the nation’s most compelling civil rights laws, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Quickly after what was to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” President Lyndon B. Johnson went before a joint session of Congress and unveiled the voting rights measure and provided a stirring, impassioned call for an end to oppression and an expansion of freedom.
LBJ successfully moved the measure through Congress and Voting Rights Act (VRA) became a landmark law aimed at prohibiting states from abridging the right to vote, with a special focus on the states with long histories of voting discrimination. That focus would be enforced by Sec. 5, which requires those jurisdictions and localities, most of them in the south, to obtain approval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for any proposed changes to their voting procedures, to ensure they could not have discriminatory effect on minority voters.
As noted by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, this nation still has a way to go before state disfranchisement is truly a thing of the past. The committee is holding a hearing today entitled “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election,” which will feature testimony from, among others, former Florida governor Charlie Crist, Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Secretary of State of Iowa Matt Schultz.
Indeed, the recent elections provided a plethora of voting rights issues. As we noted on ACS’s blog earlier this year, the burdens on voters in 2012 elections included more than just long lines; they included new obstacles such as photo ID requirements, shortened voting hours, limiting voter registration drives and lawmakers unwilling to budge much on the new restrictions. Most of these initiatives occurred in jurisdictions covered by Sec. 5.