President Johnson: Today, we strike away the last major shackle.
Jessica: When he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson called it a triumph for freedom.
It had been a century since the Civil War and since the 15th Amendment had been passed, giving former slaves the right to vote. But in some parts of the country, certain restrictions were kept in place, things like voting taxes, literacy tests and other hurdles that still made it difficult for African-Americans to vote. That is why Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires certain governments from sixteen states to first get the okay from the Justice Department before changing their voting laws and voting districts. These were areas that had a history of discrimination.
Supporters of the rule say it is necessary to make sure minorities have equal say in elections. And over the past 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has been used by the federal government to battle racial discrimination at the voting booth.
Today, the Supreme Court is taking up Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Some states, like Alabama, where today’s case originated, insist that requiring Justice Department approval is an outdated burden. Those states say that voter discrimination nowadays is quote, ‘scattered and limited,’ and the requirement is unfair.
Frank Ellis: There is no proof there is any more discrimination in Alabama or any of these sixteen states and these other states that are not covered.
Protestors: Let us vote! Let us vote!
Jessica: But the act’s defenders say recent controversial state laws that limit early voting, or require voters to get government-issued photo IDs, make the voting rights act as relevant as ever.
Attorney General Eric Holder relied on the act to challenge South Carolina’s voter ID law last year.
Eric Holder: Combating discrimination must be viewed not only as a legal issue, but as a moral imperative.
Jessica: In 1965, President Johnson said he hoped the act would guarantee the right to vote unrestrained in every precinct in the country. And so far, Congress seems to agree. Capitol Hill lawmakers have reauthorized the act four times, most recently in 2006.
Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.