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Voting Rights Act of 1965



Voting Rights and Legal Wrongs. A Commentary on S. 1564, the proposed "Voting Rights Act of 1965. "

This booklet was distributed by the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government (VCCG) in opposition to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Commission began in 1958 and existed until the late 1960s.

Led by David J. Mays, a prominent lawyer and advisor to Virginia’s commission on the response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, it advocated nationally for states’ rights and conservatism, and eventually distributed over 2 million published pamphlets, brochures and speeches.

During the first eight weeks of 1965, demonstrations of increasing size and intensity in Selma, Ala., and later in Montgomery, attracted nationwide attention to the efforts of Alabama Negroes to secure their right to vote. The demonstrations reached a political climax on the evening of March 15, when the President asked a joint session of the Congress for the immediate adoption of a "Voting Rights Act of 1965." Remarkably, members of the United States Supreme Court, in their judical robes, sat in the front row applauding.

Three days later, on March 18, identical bills were introduced in the House (HR 6400) and in the Senate (S. 1564) to carry out the President's recommendations.

The Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government believes fervently in the right to vote. At the same time, the Commission adheres just as fervently to a conviction that the power to fix qualifications for voting, uniformly applied to all persons, is a power plainly reserved to the States under Article I of the Constitution.

The proposed "Voting Rights Act of 1965," in the Commission's view, transcends the authority vested in Congress. Its key provisions are triggered not by discrimination on account of race or color, but by arbitrarily defined statistical phenomena.

In our view, the President is proposing to deal unconstitutionally with unconstitutional acts, thus piling a large subversion on a small one. He is proposing to go far beyond the limits of discrimination "on account of" race or color, in order to spread upon the statute books a harsh and punitive measure of general application, more drastic than any voting legislation proposed since Reconstruction days. The bill would grievously undermine our federal system it would open the door to the obliteration of all State powers in the field of State and local elections.

We do not oppose the President's aim. Surely the indefensible conditions that provoked the Alabama demonstrations must be remedied. But we are convinced the job can be done by a carefully drawn bill, strictly confined to denials and abridgments by reason of race or color. Such a bill would have this Commission's support. "

James J. Kilpatrick, Chairman, Committee on Publications
Richmond, April, 1965.

Source

Rights

NO COPYRIGHT – UNITED STATES

The organization that has made the Item available believes that the Item is in the Public Domain under the laws of the United States, but a determination was not made as to its copyright status under the copyright laws of other countries. The Item may not be in the Public Domain under the laws of other countries. Please refer to the organization that has made the Item available for more information.

Acknowledgement of the Virginia Historical Society as a source is requested.

Notes

Moeser, J. V. & Dennis, R. M. (2020). The politics of annexation. Oligarchic power in a southern city. Open Access Edition. Digital publisher: VCU Libraries. Original (1982) edition Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company

Hershman, J. H. Jr. Massive Resistance. (2011, June 29). Encyclopedia Virginia


50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. This act helped disenfranchised African Americans to register to vote and gave the federal government power to oversee the registration and election processes in the South. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the percentage of African Americans registered to vote rose and the number of black politicians at the local, state, and national levels increased. The act also banned the discriminatory literacy tests and cut down on a lot of the racial violence in the South.

There was a long journey to achieve the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Since the end of Reconstruction, southern African Americans were denied access to the ballot that was guaranteed under the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. They were harassed, lost their jobs, beaten, or even killed for attempting to register to vote. Organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) tried to register southern blacks to vote through teaching people how to pass the literacy tests, protest marches, and appealing to politicians.

Other series, file units and items at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries related to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 include:

  • Congressional Record Showing Debate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (NAID 6037291) from the series Bill Files, 1903-1968 (NAID 559823)
  • Letter from George Neu Opposed to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (NAID 2173238) from the series Bill Files, 1903-1968 (NAID 559823)
  • President’s Daily Diary Entry, August 6, 1965 (NAID 192457) from the series President’s Daily Diary, 11/22/1963-1/20/1969 (NAID 192429)
  • Engrossed Copy of H.R. 6400, Voting Rights Act of 1965 (NAID 5637803) from the series General Records, 1791-2010 (595069)
  • Remarks of the President at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act [Ford Speech or Statement] (NAID 7340475) from the series Press Releases, 1974-1977 (NAID 653577)
  • Records Relating to Participation in the Voting Rights Program, 1965–1967 (NAID 12006979)

Check out related blogs from the National Archives related to the Voting Rights Act of 1965:


Voting Rights Act Of 1965

This Act may be cited as the `Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006'.

SEC. 2. CONGRESSIONAL PURPOSE AND FINDINGS.

(a) Purpose- The purpose of this Act is to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote, including the right to register to vote and cast meaningful votes, is preserved and protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.

(b) Findings- The Congress finds the following:

(1) Significant progress has been made in eliminating first generation barriers experienced by minority voters, including increased numbers of registered minority voters, minority voter turnout, and minority representation in Congress, State legislatures, and local elected offices. This progress is the direct result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

(2) However, vestiges of discrimination in voting continue to exist as demonstrated by second generation barriers constructed to prevent minority voters from fully participating in the electoral process.

(3) The continued evidence of racially polarized voting in each of the jurisdictions covered by the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 demonstrates that racial and language minorities remain politically vulnerable, warranting the continued protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

(4) Evidence of continued discrimination includes--

(A) the hundreds of objections interposed, requests for more information submitted followed by voting changes withdrawn from consideration by jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and section 5 enforcement actions undertaken by the Department of Justice in covered jurisdictions since 1982 that prevented election practices, such as annexation, at-large voting, and the use of multi-member districts, from being enacted to dilute minority voting strength

(B) the number of requests for declaratory judgments denied by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

(C) the continued filing of section 2 cases that originated in covered jurisdictions and

(D) the litigation pursued by the Department of Justice since 1982 to enforce sections 4(e), 4(f)(4), and 203 of such Act to ensure that all language minority citizens have full access to the political process.

(5) The evidence clearly shows the continued need for Federal oversight in jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 since 1982, as demonstrated in the counties certified by the Attorney General for Federal examiner and observer coverage and the tens of thousands of Federal observers that have been dispatched to observe elections in covered jurisdictions.

(6) The effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been significantly weakened by the United States Supreme Court decisions in Reno v. Bossier Parish II and Georgia v. Ashcroft, which have misconstrued Congress' original intent in enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and narrowed the protections afforded by section 5 of such Act.

(7) Despite the progress made by minorities under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the evidence before Congress reveals that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.

(8) Present day discrimination experienced by racial and language minority voters is contained in evidence, including the objections interposed by the Department of Justice in covered jurisdictions the section 2 litigation filed to prevent dilutive techniques from adversely affecting minority voters the enforcement actions filed to protect language minorities and the tens of thousands of Federal observers dispatched to monitor polls in jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

(9) The record compiled by Congress demonstrates that, without the continuation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protections, racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years.

SEC. 3. CHANGES RELATING TO USE OF EXAMINERS AND OBSERVERS.

(a) Use of Observers- Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973f) is amended to read as follows:

'(A) the Attorney General has received written meritorious complaints from residents, elected officials, or civic participation organizations that efforts to deny or abridge the right to vote under the color of law on account of race or color, or in contravention of the guarantees set forth in section 4(f)(2) are likely to occur or

'(B) in the Attorney General's judgment (considering, among other factors, whether the ratio of nonwhite persons to white persons registered to vote within such subdivision appears to the Attorney General to be reasonably attributable to violations of the 14th or 15th amendment or whether substantial evidence exists that bona fide efforts are being made within such subdivision to comply with the 14th or 15th amendment), the assignment of observers is otherwise necessary to enforce the guarantees of the 14th or 15th amendment

the Director of the Office of Personnel Management shall assign as many observers for such subdivision as the Director may deem appropriate.

'(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), such observers shall be assigned, compensated, and separated without regard to the provisions of any statute administered by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, and their service under this Act shall not be considered employment for the purposes of any statute administered by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, except the provisions of section 7324 of title 5, United States Code, prohibiting partisan political activity.

'(c) The Director of the Office of Personnel Management is authorized to, after consulting the head of the appropriate department or agency, designate suitable persons in the official service of the United States, with their consent, to serve in these positions.

'(d) Observers shall be authorized to--

'(1) enter and attend at any place for holding an election in such subdivision for the purpose of observing whether persons who are entitled to vote are being permitted to vote and

'(2) enter and attend at any place for tabulating the votes cast at any election held in such subdivision for the purpose of observing whether votes cast by persons entitled to vote are being properly tabulated.

'(e) Observers shall investigate and report to the Attorney General, and if the appointment of observers has been authorized pursuant to section 3(a), to the court.'.

(b) Modification of Section 13- Section 13 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973k) is amended to read as follows:

'SEC. 13. (a) The assignment of observers shall terminate in any political subdivision of any State--

'(1) with respect to observers appointed pursuant to section 8 or with respect to examiners certified under this Act before the date of the enactment of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, whenever the Attorney General notifies the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, or whenever the District Court for the District of Columbia determines in an action for declaratory judgment brought by any political subdivision described in subsection (b), that there is no longer reasonable cause to believe that persons will be deprived of or denied the right to vote on account of race or color, or in contravention of the guarantees set forth in section 4(f)(2) in such subdivision and

(2) with respect to observers appointed pursuant to section 3(a), upon order of the authorizing court.

'(b) A political subdivision referred to in subsection (a)(1) is one with respect to which the Director of the Census has determined that more than 50 per centum of the nonwhite persons of voting age residing therein are registered to vote.

'(c) A political subdivision may petition the Attorney General for a termination under subsection (a)(1).'.

(c) Repeal of Sections Relating to Examiners- Sections 6, 7, and 9 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973d, 1973e and 1973g) are repealed.

(d) Substitution of References to `Observers' for References to `Examiners'-

(1) Section 3(a) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973a(a)) is amended by striking `examiners' each place it appears and inserting `observers'.

(2) Section 4(a)(1)(C) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973b(a)(1)(C)) is amended by inserting `or observers' after `examiners'.

(3) Section 12(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973j(b)) is amended by striking `an examiner has been appointed' and inserting `an observer has been assigned'.

(4) Section 12(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973j(e)) is amended--

(A) by striking `examiners' and inserting `observers' and

(B) by striking `examiner' each place it appears and inserting `observer'.

(e) Conforming Changes Relating to Section References-

(1) Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973b(b)) is amended by striking `section 6' and inserting `section 8'.

(2) Subsections (a) and (c) of section 12 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973j(a) and 1973j(c)) are each amended by striking `7,'.

(3) Section 14(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973l(b)) is amended by striking `or a court of appeals in any proceeding under section 9'.

SEC. 4. RECONSIDERATION OF SECTION 4 BY CONGRESS.

Paragraphs (7) and (8) of section 4(a) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973b(a)) are each amended by striking `Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982' and inserting `Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006'.

SEC. 5. CRITERIA FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973c) is amended--

(1) by inserting `(a)' before `Whenever'

(2) by striking `does not have the purpose and will not have the effect' and inserting `neither has the purpose nor will have the effect' and

(3) by adding at the end the following:

`(c) The term `purpose' in subsections (a) and (b) of this section shall include any discriminatory purpose.

`(d) The purpose of subsection (b) of this section is to protect the ability of such citizens to elect their preferred candidates of choice.'.

SEC. 6. EXPERT FEES AND OTHER REASONABLE COSTS OF LITIGATION.

Section 14(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973l(e)) is amended by inserting `, reasonable expert fees, and other reasonable litigation expenses' after `reasonable attorney's fee'.

SEC. 7. EXTENSION OF BILINGUAL ELECTION REQUIREMENTS.

Section 203(b)(1) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(b)(1)) is amended by striking `2007' and inserting `2032'.

SEC. 8. USE OF AMERICAN COMMUNITY SURVEY CENSUS DATA.

Section 203(b)(2)(A) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(b)(2)(A)) is amended by striking `census data' and inserting `the 2010 American Community Survey census data and subsequent American Community Survey data in 5-year increments, or comparable census data'.

SEC. 9. STUDY AND REPORT.

The Comptroller General shall study the implementation, effectiveness, and efficiency of the current section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and alternatives to the current implementation consistent with that section. The Comptroller General shall report the results of that study to Congress not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act.


7 Years of Gutting Voting Rights

The Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County unleashed a wave of voter suppression efforts. It’s time for Congress to restore and revitalize the Voting Rights Act.

Seven years ago today, the Supreme Court gutted the most powerful provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, undermining a law regarded as the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in American history.

In Shelby County v. Holder, a 5-4 majority mothballed the law’s Section 5, which required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get certification in advance, or “pre-clearance,” that any election change they wanted to make would not be discriminatory. The Supreme Court did this by holding that the formula used to determine which states and localities had to follow the Section 5 protocols was out of date.

For nearly 50 years, Section 5 had assured that voting changes in several states — including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia — were transparent, vetted, and fair to all voters regardless of race.

Prior to Shelby, Brennan Center warned that without the protections provided by Section 5, states might seek to reinstate or push a wave of discriminatory voting measures that were previously blocked or deterred by the law, threatening the rights of minority voters across the country to cast a ballot.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened.

Within 24 hours of the Shelby ruling, Texas announced that it would implement a strict photo-ID law. In the years since, Brennan Center has consistently found that states previously covered by the preclearance requirement have engaged in significant efforts to disenfranchise voters. Our 2018 report, to cite one example, concluded that previously covered states have increased the purging of voters after Shelby when the purge rates in non-Shelby states stayed the same.

Just this month, voters — including many voters of color — faced faulty voting machines, long lines, and extended wait times to cast their ballots in Georgia, one of the states previously subject to preclearance requirement. If Section 5 were still in effect, the state, which has closed hundreds of polling places since Shelby, would have been required to clear its voting changes before enacting them.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his Shelby opinion, asserted that the Section 5 requirements were no longer necessary, that times had changed since 1965. “The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions,” he wrote.

That those conditions — conditions of racial discrimination and injustice — persist in voting and other American institutions is clearer than ever, both from the plain evidence of Black voters braving hours-long waits in this year’s primaries to the demands for racial justice rising from the streets all over the country.

Seven years after the disastrous Shelby decision, it’s critically important that we restore and revitalize the Voting Rights Act and make good on the promise of the 15th Amendment — that no citizen be denied the right to vote based on race.


Bibliography

Davidson, Chandler, and Bernard Grofman, eds The Quiet Revolution: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act in the South, 1965 – 1990. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Garrow, David J. Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1978.

Parker, Frank R. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi after 1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Pildes, Richard H. "Diffusion of Political Power and the Voting Rights Act." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 24, no. 1 (2000): 119.

Weisbrot, Robert. Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement. New York: Norton, 1990.

Valelly, Richard. "Voting Rights in Jeopardy." The American Prospect 10, no. 46 (September 1999): 43.

Valelly, Richard. The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.


Document Category

Not long after the March 7, 1965, attack on activists marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler introduced H.R. 6400, known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Television coverage of the violence, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” shocked the nation. Support for reform grew, resulting in the most comprehensive voting rights legislation in 95 years.

Introduced on March 17, H.R. 6400 was crafted by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, who understood that even after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stronger protections for voting rights were necessary to ensure unimpeded access to the polls. Johnson spoke before a Joint Session of Congress on March 15, 1965, to call on its Members to pass voting rights legislation: “This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, no hesitation and no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. . . . We have already waited a hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone. . . . For from the window where I sit with the problems of our country I recognize that outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations, and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.”

Signed into law on August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act protected the right to vote for all citizens and made methods used to obstruct voter registration illegal, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.


Voting Rights Act of 1965

White men, age 21 and older, who owned property were given the right to vote in 1776.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution removed racial barriers to voting in 1870, but states continued to practice voter discrimination and continued to deny Black voters a chance to participate in elections.

The right to vote was extended to white women in 1920.

It wasn't until 1965, after years of intimidation, murders, and advocacy that the path to the voting booth was cleared for Black people with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.


VOTING RIGHTS ACT

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of national legislation in the United States that outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the U.S.

Echoing the language of the 15th Amendment, the Act prohibits states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." Specifically, Congress intended the Act to outlaw the practice of requiring otherwise qualified voters to pass literacy tests in order to register to vote, a principal means by which Southern states had prevented African-Americans from exercising the franchise. President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, who had earlier signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, signed the Act into law.

The Voting Rights Act established extensive federal oversight of elections administration, providing that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices could not implement any change affecting voting without first obtaining the approval of the Department of Justice, a process known as preclearance. These enforcement provisions applied to states and political subdivisions, mostly in the South that had used a "device" to limit voting and in which less than 50 percent of the population was registered to vote in 1964. The Act has been renewed and amended by Congress four times in 2006, President George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension into law.

The Act is widely considered a landmark in civil-rights legislation, though some of its provisions have sparked political controversy. During the debate over the 2006 extension, some Republican members of Congress objected to renewing the preclearance requirement (the Act's primary enforcement provision), arguing that it represents an overreach of federal power and places unwarranted bureaucratic demands on Southern states that have long since abandoned the discriminatory practices the Act was meant to eradicate. Conservative legislators also opposed requiring states with large Spanish-speaking populations to provide bilingual ballots Congress nonetheless voted to extend the Act for twenty-five years with its original enforcement provisions left intact.


Congress Protects the Right to Vote: The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Using facsimiles of historical records from the files of the U.S. House of Representative Judiciary Committee, students will evaluate evidence and consider the constitutional issues that the committee encountered as it deliberated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Students will examine the concept of federalism and weigh the proper balance of powers between Federal and state governments when protecting the right to vote.

Rationale:

By analyzing evidence reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee related to the Voting Rights Act, students must wrestle with the same issues faced by the committee as it created landmark civil rights legislation. Ten primary source documents allow students to see multiple perspectives which enable them to evaluate Congress's actions and assess whether the Federal Government should have taken over from the states the power to qualify and register voters.

Guiding Question:

Did the evidence presented to Congress in 1965 support the position that Federal Government action was necessary to ensure African Americans' right to vote?

Materials:

Recommended Grade Levels:

Courses:

American History U.S. Government Civics

Topics included in this lesson:

Voting rights, civil rights, federalism, the Constitution

Documents:

Senator Walter Mondale (MN). "Shocking Brutality in Selma, Alabama," Congressional Record Vol. 111, Pt. 4 (March 8, 1965) pp. 4350-4352. Document 1A

Congressman James Martin (AL). "The Real American Tragedy," Congressional Record Vol. 111, Pt. 4 (March 15, 1965) pp. 5017-5018. Document 1B

Statement by Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach before the House Judiciary Committee on the proposed Voting Rights Act of 1965, March 18, 1965 Judiciary Committee, Legislative Files, House bills, H.R. 6400 89th Congress, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. View in National Archives Catalog. Document 2A

Statement of Hon. Robert Y. Button, Attorney General of the State of Virginia, March 29, 1965 89th Congress Washington: Government Printing Office, 1965. Document 2B

President Lyndon Johnson's speech to Congress on voting rights: The American Promise, March 15, 1965 Judiciary Committee, Accompanying papers, S. 1564 (SEN 89A-E12) 89th Congress Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46 National Archives, Washington, DC. View in National Archives Catalog. Document 3A

Statement and editorial from the Southern States Industrial Council. Hearings on H.R. 6400 and other proposals to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, April 6, 1965. 89th Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1965. Document 3B

Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson in favor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, March 8, 1965 Judiciary Committee, Legislative Files, House bills, H.R. 6400 89th Congress Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233 National Archives, Washington, DC. View in National Archives Catalog. Document 4A

Letter from George Neu to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee against the Voting Rights Act of 1965, March 26, 1965 Judiciary Committee, Legislative Files, House bills, H.R. 6400 89th Congress Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233 National Archives, Washington, DC. View in National Archives Catalog. Document 4B

Statement of Congressman Claude Pepper. Hearings on H.R. 6400 and other proposals to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, March 24, 1965 89th CongressWashington: Government Printing Office, 1965. Document 5A

Statement of Congressman L. Mendel Rivers. Hearings on H.R. 6400 and other proposals to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, March 31, 1965 89th Congress Washington: Government Printing Office, 1965. Document 5B

Historical Overview of Voting Rights:

This short overview provides background information on the events in Congress and the nation around the time the Voting Rights Act was debated.

Learning Activities

Activity 1: Assessing the State of Voting Rights (Time required: 15 minutes)

In April 1965, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives began a series of hearings on the proposed Voting Rights Act. The first witness was the U.S. Attorney General, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach. During his testimony, he submitted to the committee several tables of statistics related to voting. Direct students to analyze the data from these tables to form an understanding of the situation in 1965 relating to white and nonwhite voters in certain states.

  • To what region of the country do most of these statistics relate?
  • What information is compared?
  • What general pattern do you notice relating to the percent of white and nonwhite registered voters?
  • To what place do the statistics in this table relate?
  • What general pattern do you notice relating to the total numbers of white to nonwhite voting age populations? Which group is larger?
  • What general pattern do you notice relating to the percentages of white and nonwhite registered voters? Which group is larger?
  • What anomaly exists in the statistics of percentages of white registered voters? How could these numbers be explained? What problem is suggested by these numbers?

Activity 2: Weighing the Evidence in the Committee (Time required: 45 minutes)

Explain to students that the qualification of voters traditionally had been determined by the states rather than the Federal Government, in accordance with Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. However, the 15th Amendment also gave Congress the power to guarantee the right to vote regardless of race or color. (For a more in-depth student activity on this topic, use Worksheet 1 to compare the Constitutional clauses.) In 1965, Congress debated the Voting Rights Act, which would authorize the Federal Government to set rules of eligibility for registering to vote—a power which had previously been practiced by state governments. At issue was whether or not there was a need for Federal action on the matter and whether Federal exercise of this power was an infringement of the rights of states under the concept of federalism.

In addition to the statistics on voting presented by Attorney General Katzenbach, Congress collected information and points of view from a variety of sources to aid in the creation of voting rights legislation. This is usually done in committees, after which the committee reports a bill to the full chamber for debate and amendment. In this activity, students in small groups will analyze types of evidence presented to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in 1965 when it considered voting rights legislation. After the small groups share, the students will have been exposed to a number of points of view, just as the congressional committee was.

  1. Small Group Analysis:
    1. The documents studied in this activity of the lesson are arranged in pairs with each pair representing a type of information the committee received from various sources. Each small group will analyze one pair of primary source documents.
    2. Each small group will use two copies of Worksheet 2: Decoding the Documents to analyze each document in the pair.
    3. Each small group will use the information collected in Worksheet 2 to make an assessment on Worksheet 3: Weighing the Issues that indicates the relative persuasiveness of the arguments made in the documents on the question of the expansion of Federal authority to guarantee voting rights. Groups should answer Question 1 at the bottom of the sheet

    Activity 3: Reflection (Time required: 30 minutes)

    1. Federalism—Balancing the constitutional powers of the states and the Federal Government: Voting rights legislation was enacted by a majority vote in the national legislature. In doing so, they limited the ability of majorities within some states to create state laws which set rules of eligibility for voting. Direct each small group to reflect on this issue by answering following questions:
      1. Under the Constitution, is it appropriate for a majority in the national Congress to overrule a majority in a state legislature?
      2. To what extent did states' denial of voting rights justify Congress' expansion of Federal authority over voting?
      3. How was the concept of federalism used both by those who supported and opposed the Voting Rights Act?

      Activity 4: Lesson Extension

      Researching the Voting Rights Act Today: Individual students or groups of students should research the current status of the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the status of lawsuits challenging its continued enforcement. Where are provisions of this law currently being enforced? To what extent does the history of voting since 1965 justify continuing the protections extended in the Voting Rights Act? On what grounds is the Voting Rights Act being challenged?

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