This Sunday, March 15, will mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s powerful speech to a joint session of Congress – and to the nation – about the urgent need to pass a voting rights bill to address voting discrimination across the nation. The speech was given a week after “Bloody Sunday” – an event that galvanized the nation around the cause of voting rights for African Americans.
“Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.”
Today we are able to honor the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson who issued a clarion call to Congress 50 years ago to act with bipartisan urgency to pass legislation that would end voting rights discrimination in the United States. The Senate bill was introduced on March 17th and only five months later, on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act bill into law.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, which struck down part of the VRA that had required jurisdictions with the worst record on voting discrimination to receive federal approval to make any election change and resulted in new laws that created barriers to the ballot box that disproportionately affect minority citizens, we can see that voting discrimination still persists today and Congress, once again, must come together to restore the protections of the VRA.
Today, the effort to restore the Voting Rights Act continues to have bipartisan support. President George Bush signed the last reauthorization of the VRA in 2006, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has introduced a bill with Lewis that responds to the Shelby decision. But Congress has taken almost no action to move legislation to restore the VRA.
“There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong--deadly wrong--to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.”