Still Fighting for Voting Rights 50 Years After the Voting Rights Act

The right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy and our most basic civil right. As Reform Jews and American citizens who care about a variety of social justice issues, we must recognize that all of these issues are inextricably linked to the right to vote. This year is an especially important year to talk about voting rights: this past March marked 50 years since the voting rights marches in Selma, AL and this coming August will mark 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

The Voting Rights Act, first passed in 1965 and renewed four times since, is one of the most important tools for protecting voting rights for all Americans. A central part of the bill focused on reducing problems in areas with a history of voting rights violations, requiring those areas to ask the federal government for preclearance before making changes to their voting laws. These areas were determined by a formula laid out in Section 4(b) of the Act. Unfortunately, June 25 will mark two years since the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that essentially invalidated this key part of the VRA.

In Shelby, the Court ruled that Section 4(b) (the formula for deciding the places that needed preclearance to change their voting laws) was unconstitutional and outdated, while leaving the rest of the VRA intact. This means that, according to the Court, while the concept of preclearance is constitutional in theory, in practice the formula used to determine those jurisdictions was unconstitutional. Since the ruling, we have seen many states that were previously covered by Section 4(b) test the extent to which they can legally limit citizens’ access to the ballot box.

Though the Court left open the option for Congress to pass a new formula, Congress has failed to act. As we approach the two-year anniversary of this Supreme Court decision, we must rededicate our efforts to protecting the right to vote for all Americans. To that end, we will be joining the Leadership Conference and the voting rights community for a rally in Roanoke on June 25 to show our support for voting rights for everyone and to tell Congress they must ask.

The fight to fix the VRA began only hours after the decision came down.  In a statement released the day of the decision, then-Director of the RAC Rabbi David Saperstein said: “We call on Congress to immediately take up and pass a new formula to ensure that jurisdictions that continue to implement discriminatory voting practices are prevented from doing so.” Two years later, we continue to call on Congress to right this wrong and protect the voting rights of all Americans. Join us by urging your Members of Congress to restore voting rights.

If you are interested in joining us for the rally in Roanoke, please contact me via email or at 202-387-2800.

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About Claire Shimberg

Claire Shimberg is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania and is originally from Tampa, FL where she is a member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek.


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