America has a long history of resisting multiracial democracy

A timeline of new and old efforts to limit the electoral power of voters of color

“Bloody Sunday dramatized to people of goodwill all over the world what the opposition to democracy was in Alabama.”

That’s the civil rights leader Andrew Young in the new CNN Original Series “LBJ: Triumph and Tragedy,” describing the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, that became a watershed moment in Black Americans’ long struggle for equality — a struggle that continues today as state lawmakers around the country chip away at broad access to the ballot box.

On that day in 1965, White state troopers attacked some 600 protesters — led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams, among others — as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The violence against the demonstrators jolted the country. Eight days later, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a televised joint session of Congress and beseeched lawmakers to pass expansive legislation to prohibit racial discrimination in voting.

“What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to accrue for themselves the full blessings of American life,” Johnson said.

He went on, echoing a key refrain of the Black freedom struggle: “Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really, it’s all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

Within just a few months, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, and on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed it into law.

In the decades since the passage of the VRA, its protections have been eroded through US Supreme Court decisions — 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder and 2021’s Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee — and political gamesmanship. In 2021, lawmakers in at least 19 states passed 34 laws that make it harder for people to vote, according to a recent tally from New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. These laws disproportionately burden voters of color.

The current assault on multiracial democracy is consistent with a long US history of political machinations intended to ensure power for White men and keep it at a distance for everyone else.

What follows is a timeline that lays out crucial dates in this history as well as significant advancements in voting rights for Black Americans and other marginalized groups.

Reconstruction era

The years between 1863 and 1877 saw tremendous gains for Black Americans, specifically in the form of the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. But the period was also turbulent, shaped by political violence aimed at reestablishing White authority.

    • December 1863

      Reconstruction begins

      According to Columbia University history professor Eric Foner, the Reconstruction era began more than a year before the end of the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln, the country’s first Republican president, “announced a plan to establish governments in the South loyal to the Union.”

      These governments backed legislation guaranteeing Black Americans’ rights and were vehemently opposed by the counter-revolutionary “Redemption” movement that swept the South.

    • Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, ending the Civil War on April 9, 1865. (Keystone View Company/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

      April 9, 1865

      Civil War effectively ends

      At the Battle of Appomattox Court House in Virginia, Confederate Army general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Army general Ulysses S. Grant, for all practical purposes ending four years of war.

    • After the Civil War ended, Lincoln used all the power he had to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. “Lincoln was not above twisting arms,” John Avlon said in the CNN Original Series “Lincoln: Divided We Stand.”

      December 6, 1865

      13th Amendment ratified

      The first of the three Reconstruction amendments, the 13th Amendment ended slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    • As Lincoln’s vice president, Johnson became the 17th president of the United States upon Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. (The Print Collector/Getty Images)

      December 3, 1867

      Democratic President Andrew Johnson gives his annual message to Congress

      In his message, Johnson said, “Negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary, wherever they have been left to their own devices, they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism.”

      Johnson’s racist remarks illuminated the controversy that still raged over Black Americans’ hard-fought rights during the tumultuous period following the Civil War.

    • In Lincoln’s final speech on April 11, 1865, he said that Black people should be allowed to vote — at least those who served in the military and are literate. “What a shocking idea that was,” said Louis P. Masur, author of “Lincoln’s Last Speech.”

      July 9, 1868

      14th Amendment ratified

      The second of the three Reconstruction amendments, the 14th Amendment extended citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States” and also secured all citizens “equal protection under the laws.”

    • September 28, 1868

      Opelousas Massacre begins

      Over the course of about two weeks, White men in Opelousas, a city in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, killed around 250 people, mostly Black Americans.

      The goal was to suppress turnout among Black voters (and anyone who supported Reconstruction efforts). Earlier that year, Louisiana voters had ratified a new state constitution that gave Black men the right to vote.

    • February 3, 1870

      15th Amendment ratified

      The final of the three Reconstruction amendments, the 15th Amendment prohibited states from taking away the right to vote “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

      But states could still impose voter qualifications. And in time, many former Confederate states did exactly that. Further, despite the 15th Amendment’s guarantees, Native Americans wouldn’t fully enjoy the rights granted by the amendment for another half a century.

    • Black Americans gather dead and wounded following the Colfax Massacre in Louisiana. (MPI/Getty Images)

      April 13, 1873

      Colfax Massacre

      A mob of about 150 armed White men in Colfax, the seat of Grant Parish, Louisiana, killed between 60 and 150 Black Americans who had taken over the local courthouse and been defending it from possible Democratic seizure following the state’s fiercely contested 1872 gubernatorial election.

      The massacre showed “the lengths to which some opponents of Reconstruction would go to regain their accustomed authority,” Foner documents in his 1988 book, “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.”

    • Portrait of Grant, the 18th president of the United States, in the late 19th century. (PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

      January 29, 1877

      Republican President Ulysses S. Grant signs the Electoral Commission Act

      Shortly before Grant left office, an electoral commission was created to settle the disputed 1876 presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Democrats agreed to give Hayes the presidency on the understanding that the federal government would remove its troops from the former Confederate states.

      This compromise — or as some historians see it, betrayal — marked the end of Reconstruction.

      “The phase that began in 1877 was inaugurated by … the abandonment of the Negro as a ward of the nation,” historian C. Vann Woodward writes in his 1955 book, “The Strange Career of Jim Crow.”

The reign of Jim Crow

Around the turn of the 20th century, Southern lawmakers, aware of that they couldn’t explicitly disenfranchise Black voters, began to impose an elaborate mix of, among other things, registration requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests and understanding clauses designed to underpin a new racial regime.

While many such laws and mechanisms were aimed specifically at keeping Black voters away from the polls, they also disproportionately disadvantaged other people of color, especially Native Americans, who suffered from “Indian-style” Jim Crow.

    • May 6, 1882

      Chinese Exclusion Act signed into law

      In signing the law, Republican President Chester A. Arthur put into place a 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. The law also prohibited Chinese residents from becoming US citizens and restricted the entry and even reentry of Chinese nationals.

      When the Chinese Exclusion Act expired in 1892, Congress extended it for another 10 years via the Geary Act, then made it permanent in 1902. While the legal ban on Chinese labor immigration was relaxed somewhat in 1943, more robust immigration from China wasn’t restored until 1965 — more than 80 years after Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law — with the passage of the Immigration Act.

    • White settlers are depicted in this painting rushing to claim Cherokee land in the Oklahoma Territory in 1889. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

      February 8, 1887

      Dawes Act signed into law

      The federal government broke up reservations and tribal lands into individual or private plots under the Dawes Act signed by Democratic President Glover Cleveland in 1887. The chief aim of the Dawes Act was to assimilate Native Americans into White mainstream society; it had a devastating impact on tribal sovereignty.

      “They (settlers) had to figure out what to do with the Indian problem — the problem being that they were Indian and were not sufficiently becoming Christian farmers,” Don Wharton, a longtime attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, told Indian Country Today in 2014. “The goal was to open the reservations to settlement by non-Indians, who would, because of proximity, help the Indians become Christian farmers.”

    • August 12, 1890

      Mississippi constitutional convention begins

      Delegates convened to rewrite Mississippi’s constitution — to skirt the 15th Amendment and functionally disenfranchise Black voters. Adopted on November 1, the constitution achieved the delegates’ primary aim through instituting mechanisms including poll taxes and literacy tests.

      One of the state constitution’s framers, Democrat James K. Vardaman, who would go on to become governor and a US Senator, saw no need to hide his disdain for Black Americans.

      “Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n****r from politics,” he once said.

      In time, other states across the South took a cue from Mississippi.

      “What happened in Mississippi set the stage for the other states of the old Confederacy and therefore defined the history of the 20th-century South, its race relations, economic stagnation and the strictures of Jim Crow,” historian Dorothy Overstreet Pratt writes in her 2017 book, “Sowing the Wind: The Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1890.”

    • White supremacists gather outside the scorched remains of Wilmington’s Daily Record newspaper building following the 1898 massacre. (Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images)

      November 10, 1898

      Wilmington Massacre

      In Wilmington, North Carolina, a White mob ejected a legitimately elected biracial government and installed White supremacists. Reading from the so-called White Declaration of Independence the day before the assault, Democrat Alfred Waddell, the mob’s leader, said, “We will no longer be ruled, and will never again be ruled by men of African origin.”

      As many as 60 people were killed. The massacre pulled into focus the kind of revanchist violence that loomed over Black Americans in the Jim Crow South.

    • June 21, 1915

      The US Supreme Court decides in Guinn v. United States

      The decision, joined by all eight justices who participated in the case, found that Oklahoma’s grandfather clause exemption to literacy tests violated the 15th Amendment. While the decision had relatively little effect — the state merely found other ways to disenfranchise Black voters — the case helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had filed a brief, as a key voting rights advocate for Black Americans.

    • People celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

      August 18, 1920

      19th Amendment ratified

      The 19th Amendment said that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged “on account of sex.” Yet the amendment didn’t necessarily guarantee this right for all women, especially Black women.

      “The women who showed up to register to vote in the fall of 1920 confronted many hurdles. Racism was the most significant one,” Johns Hopkins University history professor Martha S. Jones wrote for National Geographic in 2020.

      Even with the 15th Amendment’s protections, legislatures across the South and West employed a host of mechanisms to keep Black Americans from voting.

      “Poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses kept many Black men from casting their ballots. Unchecked intimidation and the threat of lynching sealed the deal,” Jones wrote. “With the passage of the 19th Amendment, African American women in many states remained as disenfranchised as their fathers and husbands.”

    • Coolidge poses for a 1923 photo with Miss Ruth Muskrat and members of the Committee of 100 on Indian Affairs, whose work contributed to the 1928 Meriam Report, which widely criticized the federal government’s policies toward Native Americans. (Library of Congress)

      June 2, 1924

      Indian Citizenship Act signed into law

      The 15th Amendment granted all US citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” But it wasn’t until more than 50 years later when Republican President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act — which admitted Native Americans born in the US to full citizenship — that Native Americans could enjoy the rights enshrined in the amendment.

      Well, technically. For several more decades, some states flouted the law, and continued to deny Native Americans the right to vote. Take Maine, one of the last states to comply with the law. One resident, Henry Mitchell, described the voting discrimination faced by Native Americans in Maine in the 1930s.

      ”One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the city hall about voting,” Mitchell recalled. “I don’t know just what position that official had over there, but he said to the Indian, ‘We don’t want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.’”

    • April 3, 1944

      The Court decides in Smith v. Allwright

      The 8-1 decision overturned a previous decision (Grovey v. Townsend, 1935), concluding that it was in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments for the Texas Democratic Party to prohibit Black Americans from voting in the Democratic primary (the White primary system).

      As the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund argues, “(The decision) signaled the beginning of the Second Reconstruction and the modern civil rights movement. The political and social advances of Blacks simply could not have occurred without the changes that came in the wake of the overthrow of the Democratic White primary.”

    • July 15, 1948

      The Arizona Supreme Court decides in Harrison v. Laveen

      The case involved Frank Harrison and Harry Austin, two members of the Mohave-Apache tribe in Arizona who in 1947 were prevented from registering to vote, based on an interpretation of the state’s constitution that Native Americans were “persons under guardianship” of the US and thus ineligible to vote.

      Via Harrison v. Laveen, the Arizona Supreme Court determined that “persons of guardianship,” as used in the state constitution, didn’t apply to Native Americans as a class. While the decision expanded voting access for Native Americans in Arizona, hurdles remained, including language barriers and literacy tests.

    • June 27, 1952

      Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 becomes law

      Also known as the McCarran–Walter Act, the Immigration and National Act of 1952 was, in important ways, a mixed bag. It sought to reform the US’s immigration laws by removing the racial restrictions that previous legislation had placed on citizenship and naturalization.

      However, the law retained national origins quotas, which reflected a logic that “cast the native-born as the most loyal Americans, especially whites of British and north European descent, and the foreign-born as subversive, especially Jews, who were imagined as Bolsheviks, and Italians, who were viewed as anarchists,” as Columbia University history professor Mae Ngai writes in her 2004 book, “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.”

      Further, “while also preserving non-quota immigration from countries of the Western Hemisphere, it imposed quotas on the former British colonies in the Caribbean, a move that was designed to limit the migration of black people into the United States,” Ngai writes.

    • Civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and Whitney Young attended the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

      July 2, 1964

      Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law

      The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and later was expanded to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    • Rep. John Lewis reflects on Bloody Sunday in a 2015 interview with CNN.

      March 7, 1965

      Bloody Sunday

      Up to 600 activists set out in Alabama to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for Black voting rights. But when the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they encountered White state troopers, who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas.

      The event became known as Bloody Sunday.

      “I went down on my knees. My legs went out from under me. I thought I was going to die,” the late civil rights leader John Lewis told CNN in 2015.

      The images of the assault on the marchers accelerated the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

    • King huddled with his friends to watch Johnson pledge to fight for voting rights. In the series “LBJ: Triumph and Tragedy,” former Rep. Andrew Young said that was the only time he saw King cry.

      August 6, 1965

      Johnson signs the VRA into law

      Designed to undergird the protections enshrined in the 14th and 15th Amendments, this watershed piece of federal legislation prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

    • October 3, 1965

      Johnson signs the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 into law

      Also called the Hart–Celler Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 got rid of the National Origins Formula — a system based on immigration quotas that favored immigrants from western and northern Europe — that had defined US immigration policy for the previous several decades.

    • Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill of 1968. (Warren K. Leffer/Library of Congress)

      April 11, 1968

      Johnson signs the Indian Civil Rights Act into law

      The Indian Civil Rights Act was passed because tribal nations are considered sovereign and subsequently some constitutional provisions limiting federal powers don’t directly apply to them. It’s been attended by fierce debate.

      “The Act is a highly controversial law because it authorizes federal courts to intervene in intra-tribal disputes, a power they never had before,” Stephen L. Pevar, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, writes in 1991’s “The Rights of Indians and Tribes: The Basic ACLU Guide to Indian and Tribal Rights.” “Many Indians bitterly resent this development. Essentially, it does two things: First, it confers certain rights on all persons who are subject to the jurisdiction of a tribal government. Second, it authorizes federal courts to enforce many of these rights.”

    • Bush signs HR 9, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, on July 27, 2006. (G. Fabiano/Pool/Getty Images)

      July 27, 2006

      Most recent extension of the VRA

      Republican President George W. Bush signed legislation extending the VRA for an additional 25 years, saying that “the right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future lies at the heart of the American experiment.”

      Of the era’s political environment, author David Daley wrote for The New Republic in 2020 that “even though Republican presidents were still nominating judges who undermined ballot access, and members of both parties confirmed them to the bench, few respectable, elected voices on either side were willing to publicly countenance a frontal assault on American voting rights.”

      Republican presidents had previously approved VRA extensions with bipartisan support across several administrations — in 1970, 1975 and 1982.

Post-Shelby County

Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby County v. Holder case, states in the South and beyond began to unleash a wave of election changes in order to take advantage of the Court’s erosion of the VRA’s protections. These changes continue to this day, particularly in the aftermath of the Court’s 2021 decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.

    • Supporters of the VRA listen to speakers discussing the Shelby County decision outside the Court on June 25, 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

      June 25, 2013

      The Court decides in Shelby County v. Holder

      The 5-4 decision defanged the VRA by freeing jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting from having to gain federal approval, called “preclearance,” before changing their election laws.

      In her renowned dissent, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

      The uptick in restrictive voting laws following the decision proved Ginsburg right.

      For instance, on the same day that the Court decided in the case surrounding Shelby County, Texas, which used to be subject to preclearance, enacted a voter identification law — “the most stringent in the country,” as a federal court described it the previous year.

    • Lewis speaks to the media ahead of the House vote on HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, on December 6, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

      December 6, 2019

      Democratic-led House passes HR 4

      Also called the Voting Rights Advancement Act, HR 4 would revise parts of the VRA that were gutted as a result of the 2013 Shelby County decision. HR 4 wasn’t brought up for a vote in the Senate (which at the time was controlled by Republicans), and it has not yet been introduced in the current Congress.

    • Trump and his allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rudy Giuliani, made false claims of voter fraud after the 2020 election.

      November 7, 2020

      CNN projects Democrat Joe Biden to win the 2020 presidential election

      Not long after Biden’s projected win, Republican Donald Trump and his allies began pushing baseless claims of mass voter fraud in cities including Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — cities that are majority Black or have significant Black populations. The implicit message was that certain votes shouldn’t count.

    • CNN spoke to protesters outside the Capitol who had embraced Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.

      January 6, 2021

      Fatal attack on the US Capitol

      At Trump’s exhortation, a Confederate flag-waving mob laid siege to the US Capitol while lawmakers were affirming President Joe Biden's electoral college win. Many insurrectionists believed that the election had been stolen; some said that they wanted to confront members of Congress.

      Observers pointed out that the attack echoed previous instances of White backlash to racial equality, given the pivotal role that Black voters played in the 2020 contest and the prevalence of White supremacist and extremist symbols during the attack.

      That same day, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats, were declared the winners in Georgia’s January 5 runoff elections. Many historians argue that Georgia’s runoff system was created as a means of diluting Black electoral power.

    • Ralston describes the purpose of a new committee focused on election integrity.

      January 7, 2021

      Georgia’s Republican House Speaker David Ralston comments on ‘election integrity’ in press conference

      Ralston said that he’s “certain” that election reform will take center stage in the upcoming legislative session, and he announced that he’d be appointing a special “election integrity” committee to examine Georgia’s election laws. In addition, Ralston signaled a readiness to consider “taking the elections function out of that (the secretary of state’s) office.”

      Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, repeatedly disputed Trump’s baseless claims of mass voter fraud in the Peach State.

    • House Democrats discuss HR 1, the For the People Act, during a news conference on March 3, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

      March 3, 2021

      Democratic-led House passes HR 1

      Also called the For the People Act, HR 1, which was originally introduced in 2019, would expand voting via policies such as automatic and same-day voter registration. However, HR 1 faces long odds in the 50-50 Senate at least in part because of the filibuster, a tactic that’s long been used to frustrate civil rights progress.

    • Warnock uses his first Senate floor speech to denounce restrictive voting laws.

      March 17, 2021

      Warnock gives his maiden floor speech

      In his first speech on the Senate floor, Warnock spoke about the precarious state of voting rights. “We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve ever seen since the Jim Crow era,” he said. “It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society.”

    • Kemp signs SB 202, surrounded by Georgia’s Republican legislative leaders and the bill’s sponsors, on March 25, 2021. From left to right: Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller; Rep. Barry Fleming; House Speaker David Ralston; Kemp, seated; Sen. Max Burns; Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan; and House Majority Whip Trey Kelley. (From Gov. Brian Kemp/Twitter)

      March 25, 2021

      Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs an anti-voting rights bill into law

      SB 202 imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, allows state officials to take over local election boards, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime for people who aren’t poll workers to approach voters in line to give them food and water.

      Democrat Stacey Abrams — who founded Fair Fight after losing to Kemp in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, which was choked with controversy — has been vocal in her opposition to Georgia Republicans’ antidemocratic maneuvering.

      “At a time when Georgia ranks as the worst state for Covid vaccination rates, Georgia Republicans instead are singularly focused on reviving Georgia's dark past of racist voting laws,” Abrams said in a March 2021 statement.

    • DeSantis holds up the voting bill after signing it live on Fox News. The cable news network was the only press outlet granted access to the signing. (From Fox News)

      May 6, 2021

      Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a restrictive voting bill into law

      SB 90 imposes stricter voter identification requirements for voting by mail, limits who can pick up and return a voter’s ballot and prohibits private funding for elections, among other things.

      “Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts. Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,’ ” DeSantis said after signing the bill, repeating that deceptive Republican watchword: integrity.

      Mere minutes after DeSantis signed the bill, a coalition that includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Black Voters Matter Fund filed a lawsuit to challenge several of the new law’s provisions.

      Democratic state Rep. Michael Grieco saw clear parallels between Georgia’s SB 202 and Florida’s SB 90.

      “That bill that was passed in the state just north of us sent us a message, and the response to that bill should let us know we should not be doing this,” he said during House debate in 2021.

      Grieco also made an appeal, “Please do not Georgia my Florida.”

    • July 1, 2021

      The Court decides in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee

      The case centered on two Arizona policies: One discards out-of-precinct ballots, and the other largely prohibits third-party groups from returning early ballots for another person. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down these policies, arguing that they’re racially discriminatory under the VRA.

      The Court, however, came to a different conclusion. In a 6-3 ruling, it decided that the policies aren’t racially discriminatory under the VRA, further defanging one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement.

    • Abbott shows his signature after signing SB 1 into law in Tyler, Texas. (LM Otero/AP)

      September 7, 2021

      Texas’s SB 1 signed into law

      Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the sweeping SB 1, designed to restrict not only how people vote but also when.

      “It specifically targets voting initiatives used by diverse, Democratic Harris County, the state’s most populous, by banning overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting — both of which proved popular among voters of color last year,” The Texas Tribune reported at the time.

      Notably, SB 1 prompted the Department of Justice to file a lawsuit against Texas.

      “Laws that impair eligible citizens’ access to the ballot box have no place in our democracy. Texas Senate Bill 1’s restrictions on voter assistance at the polls and on which absentee ballots cast by eligible voters can be accepted by election officials are unlawful and indefensible,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

    • US Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice on December 6. (Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

      December 6, 2021

      DOJ sues Texas over GOP-approved redistricting maps

      In the second voting rights-related lawsuit the Biden administration filed against Texas in 2021, the DOJ challenged legislative maps adopted by Texas Republicans, alleging that the maps disadvantage Black voters and fail to recognize crucial growth in the state’s Latino population.

      The lawsuit arrived at the end of a year beleaguered by efforts to limit the electoral power of voters of color.

      Not only were there redistricting legal fights in states including Texas and North Carolina, but between January and December, lawmakers in at least 19 states passed 34 laws that make it more difficult for people to vote, per a recent tally from New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. These laws tend to have a disproportionate impact on voters of color.

    • A view of the US Capitol on January 19. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

      January 19, 2022

      Senate Democrats suffer another defeat on voting rights

      Senate Democrats were confronted with another major defeat when their attempt to eliminate or alter the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation failed, just two days after the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. Of MLK Day, King’s family had previously said that there should be “no celebration without legislation.”

      Importantly, Democrats face opposition not only from Republicans but from members of their own party — specifically, from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who’ve repeatedly said that they have no interest in changing Senate rules, even to safeguard voting rights.

      Their stubbornness calls to mind King Jr.’s withering observation that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the White moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

    • Alabama state Sen. Rodger Smitherman compares US Representative district maps during a special session on redistricting at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama, on November 3, 2021. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser/AP)

      February 7, 2022

      Supreme Court restores GOP-drawn Alabama congressional map

      In a 5-4 decision, the Court reinstated a congressional map drawn by Alabama Republicans that a lower-court ruling said weakens Black voters’ electoral power and thus probably violates the VRA.

      Justice Elena Kagan minced no words in her dissent, which was joined by Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, the bench’s two other liberal justices.

      “It does a disservice to the district court, which meticulously applied this Court’s longstanding voting-rights precedent,” Kagan wrote. “And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished — in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”