Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Congress, give us new Voting Rights Act

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
June 26, 2013 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
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
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT