Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Congress, give us new Voting Rights Act

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 8:54 AM EDT, Wed June 26, 2013
The Voting Rights Act is often called the crown jewel of the civil rights movement, yet many Americans do not know why or how it was passed. Pictured, NAACP Field Director Charles White speaks on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 25, after<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/25/politics/scotus-voting-rights/index.html'> the court limited use of a major part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965,</a> in effect invalidating a key enforcement provision. Here are some key moments and characters in the voting rights saga. The Voting Rights Act is often called the crown jewel of the civil rights movement, yet many Americans do not know why or how it was passed. Pictured, NAACP Field Director Charles White speaks on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 25, after the court limited use of a major part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, in effect invalidating a key enforcement provision. Here are some key moments and characters in the voting rights saga.
HIDE CAPTION
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: LBJ's 1965 speech enjoined Southerners to support blacks' right to vote
  • She says the Supreme Court, in a stroke, has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act
  • Brazile: President Obama must convince polarized Congress to save the act by fixing it
  • Voter ID laws show threats to rights remain, and Congress must pass new act, she says

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- In an earthshaking 1965 speech to Congress and to the nation, President Lyndon Johnson spoke directly to the sinister forces that had restricted black Americans' right to vote across the South -- laying out the goals of the Voting Rights Act in the form of a command to this shameful cabal.

"Open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land," Johnson thundered. "There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain." The speech stirred the country, moved the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to tears and secured this essential law's passage.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Today, if President Barack Obama wants to save the Voting Rights Act following Tuesday's shameful Supreme Court ruling, then he faces an even bigger challenge than Johnson did: He's got to convince a much more hostile Congress that the act is worth saving.

Hanging in the balance is the very foundation of American civil rights law. On Tuesday, nearly 50 years after Johnson's historic speech, the five conservative members of the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in a single stroke. Why? According to the majority opinion, apparently it's because the discriminatory anti-voter rules the act prohibits aren't as much of a problem as they were before the law was passed.

If you're trying to think up a way to illustrate how completely nuts that is, don't worry, because Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg already put it best in her dissent. Striking down this essential part of the act, Ginsburg wrote, "is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

Opinion: How segregation got busted

High court halts key civil rights law
Law professor on voting rights decision
Analysis: America's Voting Rights Act

Of course, Johnson was right in 1965, and he's just as right today. These protections are vital and necessary. There is no right more sacrosanct to the very foundations of our nation than the right to vote, and threats to equal voting loom every time we turn a blind eye. Constant vigilance is required to safeguard it, and for half a century the Voting Rights Act was a watchful guardian. But now that Section 5's "pre-clearance" formula has been made irrelevant, it falls to Congress to fix it.

Don't expect the conservative-controlled House of Representatives to jump at the chance though. Just last year, during the 2012 election cycle, Republican elected officials in states across the country pushed deeply hostile voter ID laws that disproportionately limit minority voters. Sometimes, the Republicans were even explicit that the purpose of these laws was to put victories in the "R" column. And all that took place with a full and complete Voting Rights Act still on the books.

Veterans of forgotten voting war count the cost

Now it's up to Obama to make a new case for a new Voting Rights Act. Of course, there's nothing partisan about equality in the ballot box. The act's great virtue is that it barred discrimination no matter which way it was directed. It was an equal opportunity shield from injustice -- protecting you no matter who you voted for or what you looked like.

It is a crying shame that the Supreme Court left a key part of Johnson's legacy in tatters. But today, Obama -- and every fair-minded American -- should look to the spirit of Johnson and King and pass a new Voting Rights Act that will stand the test of time. We can't wait. Election Day is just around the corner.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT