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 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT