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August 6: The 1965 Voting Rights Act

August 6, 2013

johnson_voting_rights_actThe Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on this date in 1965. The bill had been drafted in the conference room of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, under the aegis of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, a coalition that included the majority of Jewish religious and secular organizations. The Voting Rights Act gave the U.S. attorney general the power to appoint federal examiners to supervise voter registration in states or voting districts where a literacy test or other blockades to voting were in use, and where fewer than 50 percent of voting-age residents were registered or had voted in 1964. Eight states were targeted: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. When the Supreme Court on June 25th of this year eviscerated the Act’s preclearance requirement, which had forced discriminating states to obtain federal permission before changing voter registration procedures, the Religious Action Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and several other Jewish organizations condemned the 5-4 decision as, in ADL head Abraham Foxman’s words, “a major setback to the progress we have made in civil rights.” The three Jewish members of the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, all signed the dissent written by Ginsburg. To see President Johnson’s remarks upon signing the Voting Rights Act, look below.

“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.” —Rabbi David Saperstein