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The Voting Rights Act at 50

Today, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act with a day of action, and several events urging Congress to restore protections gutted by the Supreme Court two years ago.

August 6, 2015

Texas Photo ID Ruling Proves Federal Voting Protections Still Vital

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act — one of the most successful civil rights laws in American history until it was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder.

Brennan Center experts Nicole Austin-Hillery, Myrna Pérez, and Wendy Weiser will commemorate the anniversary at a White House event featuring a conversation with President Barack Obama, Rep. John Lewis, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

In New York City, the Center will also join community groups for a day of action, calling on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Two bills are pending that would reinstate and strengthen the Act’s core protections.

“The Voting Rights Act guaranteed that every American had an equal say in their government and could cast a ballot free of discrimination,” said Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “Now, 50 years later, the Supreme Court has forced us to refight these battles, and restrictive laws threaten the voting rights of millions across the country. To honor the legacy of the Selma marchers, and the countless others who fought for decades to gain the vote, Congress must act now to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act.”

The Voting Rights Act anniversary comes on the heels of a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision finding Texas’s strict photo ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters.

The Texas ruling is a perfect example of why the Voting Rights Act protections are still necessary. In 2012, a federal court blocked Texas’s ID requirement under Section 5 of the Act. But the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling rendered that provision inoperable, and the state moved quickly to put the ID law into effect. Advocates again challenged the law in court, but it was allowed to remain in place for several elections, disenfranchising voters in the process.

Since the 2010 election, 21 states have new laws in place making it harder to vote — and many of these restrictions were pushed forward after the Supreme Court’s ruling. In 2016, 15 states will have more strict rules in place than they did in 2012.

Read more on the success of the Voting Rights Act and the current threats to its promise from Vishal Agraharkar and UNC School of Law’s Theodore M. Shaw in the New York Daily News, and from Agraharkar in The Hill.

For more information, or to set up an interview with a Brennan Center expert, contact Erik Opsal at or 646–292–8356.