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Friday, August 28, 2015

The Voting Rights Act and other Important News

The history of the legislative process on how the Voting Rights Act existed is an interesting one. First, the bill (called S.1564) was sent to the Senate by Senators Mike Mansfield (D-MT) and Everett Dirksen (R-IL) on March 17, 1965. The bill’s language was heavily drafted by both members of Congress and Attorney General Katzenbach. LBJ didn’t want Southern Democrats to filibuster the legislation like they did to other civil rights efforts, so he enlisted Dirksen to help gain Republican support for the bill. Dirksen was hesitant in doing this, but he wanted to do it after the police violence against innocent marchers in Selma on Bloody Sunday. The bill was nicknamed “Dirksenbach” bill because Dirksen had a key role in helping Katzenbach to draft the bill. After Mansfield and Dirksen introduced the bill, 64 additional Senators agreed to cosponsor it. The bill wanted a stronger federal government role in preclearance (or allowing the U.S. Attorney General or other government functions to assist voting procedures in states). The bill was first considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chair, Senator James Eastland (D-MS), opposed the legislation with several other Southern Senators on the committee. Eastland wanted to stop the bill, so he proposed the motion to require the Judiciary Committee to report the bill out of committee by April 9, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed. During the committee’s consideration of the bill, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) led an effort to amend the bill to prohibit poll taxes. The 24th Amendment banned poll taxes in federal elections in 1964. The problem was that no such ban existed in state elections (many people feared that the courts would strike down such a ban as unconstitutional). Delegations from Texas and Arkansas opposed such a proposal. Kennedy’s amendment to ban poll taxes was passed by a 9-4 vote.

The Voting Rights Bill was reported but of committee on April 9 by a 12-4 vote without a recommendation. On April 22, the full Senate debated on the bill. Dirksen spoke first on the bill's behalf, saying that "legislation is needed if the unequivocal mandate of the 15th Amendment ... is to be enforced and made effective, and if the Declaration of Independence is to be made truly meaningful.” Of course, Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) opposed the bill making the ludicrous charge that it would lead to despotism and tyranny. Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) called the bill unconstitutional since its deprived states of their right under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution to establish voter qualifications and because the bill's special provisions targeted only certain jurisdictions. On May 6, Ervin offered an amendment to abolish the coverage formula's automatic trigger and instead allow federal judges to appoint federal examiners to administer voter registration. This amendment overwhelmingly failed, with 42 Democrats and 22 Republicans voting against it. After lengthy debate, Ted Kennedy's amendment to prohibit poll taxes also failed 49-45. However, the Senate agreed to include a provision authorizing the Attorney General to sue any jurisdiction, covered or non-covered, to challenge its use of poll taxes. An amendment offered by Senator Robert Kennedy (D-NY) to enfranchise English-illiterate citizens who had attained at least a sixth-grade education in a non-English-speaking school also passed by 48-19. Southern legislators offered a series of amendments to weaken the bill, all of which failed. On May 25, 1965, the Senate voted for cloture 70-30. Cloture is a motion or process to bring the debate to a quick end. On May 26, 1965, the Senate passed the bill by a 77-19 vote (Democrats 47-16 and Republicans 30-2). The Act was introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 6400. The debate on the bill happened more slowly than on the Senate. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on May 12. It didn’t file its report until June 1.

The committee's ranking Republican, William McCulloch (R-OH), generally supported expanding voting rights, but he opposed both the poll tax ban and the coverage formula, and he led opposition to the bill in committee. The Speaker of the House John McCormack supported the bill and the poll tax prohibition. The bill was then considered by the Rules Committee. Its chair was Howard w. Smith (D-VA). He opposed the bill and delayed its consideration under June 24. Under pressure from the bill's proponents, he allowed the bill to be released from committee a week later, and the full House started debating the bill on July 6. McCulloch wanted to defeat the Voting Rights Act. So, he introduced an alternative bill called H.R. 7896. It would have allowed the Attorney General to appoint federal registrars after receiving 25 serious complaints of discrimination about a jurisdiction and imposed a nationwide ban on literacy tests for persons who demonstrated having attained a sixth-grade education. McCulloch's bill was co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) and supported by Southern Democrats as an alternative to the Voting Rights Act. The Johnson administration viewed H.R. 7896 as a serious threat to passing the Voting Rights Act. However, support for H.R. 7896 dissipated after William M. Tuck (D-VA) publicly said he preferred H.R. 7896 because the Voting Rights Act would legitimately ensure that African Americans could vote. His statement alienated most supporters of H.R. 7896, and the bill failed on the House floor by a 171-248 vote on July 9. Later that night, the House passed the Voting Rights Act by a 333-85 vote (Democrats 221-61, Republicans 112-24). The bill went into the conference committee after the House passed the bill. This was about other chambers resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate version had a provision that allowed the Attorney General to sue states that used poll taxes to discriminate, while the House version outright banned poll taxes. Initially, the committee members were stalemated. To help broker a compromise, Attorney General Katzenbach drafted legislative language explicitly asserting that poll taxes were unconstitutional and instructed the Department of Justice to sue the states that maintained poll taxes. To assuage concerns of liberal committee members that this provision was not strong enough, Katzenbach enlisted the help of Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his support to the compromise. King's endorsement ended the stalemate, and on July 29, the conference committee reported its version out of committee. The House approved this conference report version of the bill on August 3 by a 328-74 vote (Democrats 217-54, Republicans 111-20), and the Senate passed it on August 4 by a 79-18 vote (Democrats 49-17, Republicans 30-1).

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law with Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and other civil rights leaders in attendance. The Voting Rights Act caused an immediate help to African Americans in terms of voting rights. After the law was enacted in 1965, there was an immediate decrease of racial discrimination in voting. The ending of literacy tests and the assignments of federal examiners and observers allowed for high numbers of racial minorities to register to vote. Nearly 250,000 African Americans registered to vote in 1965 and one-third of whom were registered by federal examiners. In covered jurisdictions, less than one-third (29.3%) of the African American population was registered in 1965; by 1967, this number increased to more than half (52.1%), and a majority of African American residents became registered to vote in 9 of the 13 Southern states. Similar increases were seen in the number of African Americans elected to office: between 1965 and 1985, African Americans elected as state legislators in the 11 former Confederate states increased from 3 to 176. The number of African American elected officials increased from 1,469 in 1970 to 4,912 in 1980. By 2011, the number is about 10,500. Congress enacted the bilingual election requirements in 1975 and amended them in 1992. In 1973, the percent of Hispanics registered to vote was 34.9%; by 2006, that amount nearly doubled. The number of Asian Americans registered to vote in 1996 increased 58% by 2006. The initial success of the law was designed to combat tactics which wanted to deny minorities access to the polls. The Act has been used to challenge racial vote dilution. Starting in the 1970s, the Attorney General commonly raised Section 5 objections to voting changes that decreased the effectiveness of racial minorities' votes, including discriminatory annexations, redistricting plans, and election methods such as at-large election systems, runoff election requirements, and prohibitions on bullet voting. By enfranchising racial minorities, the Act facilitated a political realignment of the Democratic and Republican parties. Between 1890 and 1965, minority disenfranchisement allowed conservative Southern Democrats to dominate Southern politics. After Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act into law, newly enfranchised racial minorities began to vote for liberal Democratic candidates throughout the South, and Southern white conservatives began to switch their party registration from Democrat to Republican en masse. So, the Democratic Party became more liberal and the Republican Party became more conservative after the mid 1960's. This increased competition among both parties. Later, the Republicans would use the racist Southern Strategy in order to get votes while scapegoating people of color. We still have a long way to go as extremists want to further erode our voting rights with voter ID laws, etc.

The previous Nigerian President (who was Jonathan Goodluck) was disgraceful in his conduct of trying to save the missing young girls. It is very important that this story is told since this story represents a human rights crisis. The story represents the truth about how how any injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There should be national and international collaborations in Africa to find these girls and to counteract evil in our world. Boko Haran is an evil counterrevolutionary, terrorist group who has committed unspeakable horrors in the world. Short term and Long term, Nigerian leadership must establish more national political unity among Christians, Muslims, animists, and others in Nigeria (there are more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria like the Hausa, Fulani, the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Ijaw, etc.). The reason is that Nigeria is one country and unity builds strength. There is a serious problem of economic inequality in Nigeria (as many residents of Chibok are very poor). Policies must be made to rectify issues. Nigeria should run its own nation (but, people in Nigeria have every right to demand transparency and accountability from its government) excluding imperialism. Great people (including the parents and relatives of the kidnapped girls) worldwide have talked about this issue, protested, and expressed solidarity with the kidnapped girls from Chibok. We are in solidarity with the missing Sisters too. We want them to be brought back home. #BringBackOurGirls.

 By Timothy

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