Voting Rights Act (VRA)

Congress re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act for 25 years
(updated: 8/25/19)


 

Addendum: Congress Re-authorized the Voting Rights Act for 25 years
 

History


Here is a little history that shows the on going battle for the Voting Rights Act. To enforce the Reconstruction Amendments, Congress passed the Enforcement Acts in the 1870s. The Acts criminalized the obstruction of a citizen's voting rights and provided for federal supervision of the electoral process, including voter registration.[16]:310 However, in 1875 the Supreme Court struck down parts of the legislation as unconstitutional in United States v. Cruikshank and United States v. Reese.[17]:97 After the Reconstruction Era ended in 1877, enforcement of these laws became erratic, and in 1894, Congress repealed most of their provisions.[16]:310

Southern states generally sought to disenfranchise racial minorities during and after Reconstruction. From 1868 to 1888, electoral fraud and violence throughout the South suppressed the African-American vote.[18] From 1888 to 1908, Southern states legalized disenfranchisement by enacting Jim Crow laws; they amended their constitutions and passed legislation to impose various voting restrictions, including literacy tests, poll taxes, property-ownership requirements, moral character tests, requirements that voter registration applicants interpret particular documents, and grandfather clauses that allowed otherwise-ineligible persons to vote if their grandfathers voted (which excluded many African Americans whose grandfathers had been slaves or otherwise ineligible).[16][18] During this period, the Supreme Court generally upheld efforts to discriminate against racial minorities. In Giles v. Harris (1903), the Court held that irrespective of the Fifteenth Amendment, the judiciary did not have the remedial power to force states to register racial minorities to vote.[17]:100

 

6 SHELBY COUNTY v. HOLDER


The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On August 4, 1965, the U.S. Senate passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The long-delayed issue of voting rights had come to the forefront because of a voter registration drive launched by civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama. Among Selma's 15,000 black citizens of voting age, only 335 were registered to vote. 1870: Non-white men and freed male slaves are guaranteed the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Disenfranchisement after the Reconstruction Era began soon after. Southern states suppressed the voting rights of black and poor white voters through Jim Crow Laws. Ultimately, Congress determined that although significant progress had been made in reducing racial discrimination in voting since 1965, sufficient discrimination existed to justify extending the special provisions. ... The legislation was enacted on June 17, 1970 as the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970.

Congress enacted major amendments to the Act in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006, President George W. Bush signs amendments to the Act in July 2006 . Each amendment coincided with an impending expiration of some or all of the Act's special provisions. Originally set to expire by 1970, Congress repeatedly reauthorized the special provisions in recognition of continuing voting discrimination.[14]:209�210[29]:6�8 Congress extended the coverage formula and special provisions tied to it, such as the Section 5 preclearance requirement, for five years in 1970, seven years in 1975, and 25 years in both 1982 and 2006. In 1970 and 1975, Congress also expanded the reach of the coverage formula by supplementing it with new 1968 and 1972 trigger dates. Coverage was further enlarged in 1975 when Congress expanded the meaning of "tests or devices" to encompass any jurisdiction that provided English-only election information, such as ballots, if the jurisdiction had a single language minority group that constituted more than five percent of the jurisdiction's voting-age citizens. These expansions brought numerous jurisdictions into coverage, including many outside of the South.

[40] To ease the burdens of the reauthorized special provisions, Congress liberalized the bailout procedure in 1982 by allowing jurisdictions to escape coverage by complying with the Act and affirmatively acting to expand minority political participation.[17]:523 . See Georgia v. United States, 411 U. S. 526 (1973); City of Rome v. United States, 446 U. S. 156 (1980); Lopez v. Monterey County, 525 U. S. 266 (1999).

In 1982, Congress reauthorized the Act for 25 years, but did not alter its coverage formula. See Voting Rights Act Amendments, 96 Stat. 131. Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act, 120 Stat. 577. Congress also amended �5 to prohibit more conduct than before. �5, id., at 580� Opinion of the Court 581; see Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bd., 528 U. S. 320, 341 (2000) (Bossier II); Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U. S. 461, 479 (2003). Section 5 now forbids 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.� 15 Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)

 

Opinion of the Court


 

15 SHELBY COUNTY v. HOLDER


There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process. See �2(b)(1), 120 Stat. 577. During the �Freedom Summer� of 1964, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, three men were murdered while working in the area to register African-American voters. See United States v. Price, 383 U. S. 787, 790 (1966). On �Bloody Sunday� in 1965, in Selma, Alabama, police beat
 

16 SHELBY COUNTY v. HOLDER


Opinion of the Court and used tear gas against hundreds marching in sup- port of African-American enfranchisement. See Northwest Austin, supra, at 220, n. 3 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). Today both of those towns are governed by African-American mayors. Problems remain in these States and others, but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our Nation has made great strides. Yet the Act has not eased the restrictions in �5 or narrowed the scope of the coverage formula in �4(b) along the way. Those extraordinary and unprecedented features were reauthorized�as if nothing had changed.

In fact, the Act�s unusual remedies have grown even stronger. When Congress reauthorized the Act in 2006, it did so for another 25 years on top of the previous 40�a far cry from the initial five-year period. See 42 U. S. C. �1973b(a)(8). Congress also expanded the prohibitions in �5. We had previously interpreted �5 to prohibit only those redistricting plans that would have the purpose or effect of worsening the position of minority groups. See Bossier II, 528 U. S., at 324, 335�336. In 2006, Congress amended �5 to prohibit laws that could have favored such groups but did not do so because of a discriminatory purpose, see 42 U. S. C. �1973c(c), even though we had stated that such broadening of �5 coverage would �exacerbate the substantial federalism costs that the preclearance procedure already exacts, perhaps to the extent of raising concerns about �5�s constitutionality,� Bossier II, supra, at 336 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, Congress expanded �5 to prohibit any voting law �that has the purpose of or will have the effect of diminishing the ability of any citizens of the United States,� on account of race, color, or language minority status, �to elect their preferred candidates of choice.

When determining whether a jurisdiction's election law violates this general prohibition, courts have relied on factors enumerated in the Senate Judiciary Committee report associated with the 1982 amendments ("Senate Factors"), including:

 
The report indicates not all or a majority of these factors need to exist for an electoral device to result in discrimination, and it also indicates that this list is not exhaustive, allowing courts to consider additional evidence at their discretion.[53][56]:344[57]:28�29
 

Section 2


Prohibits two types of discrimination: "vote denial", in which a person is denied the opportunity to cast a ballot or to have their vote properly counted, and "vote dilution", in which the strength or effectiveness of a person's vote is diminished.[58]:691�692

Most Section 2 litigation has concerned vote dilution, especially claims that a jurisdiction's redistricting plan or use of atlarge/multimember elections prevents minority voters from casting sufficient votes to elect their preferred candidates.[58]:708�709 An at-large election can dilute the votes cast by minority voters by allowing a cohesive majority group to win every legislative seat in the jurisdiction.[59]:221 Redistricting plans can be gerrymandered to dilute votes cast by minorities by "packing" high numbers of minority voters into a small number of districts or "cracking" minority groups by placing small numbers of minority voters into a large number of districts.[60]