Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.[7][8] It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections.[7] Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act sought to secure the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.[9] It is also "one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history."[10]

Voting Rights Act of 1965
Long titleAn Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial)VRA
NicknamesVoting Rights Act
Enacted bythe 89th United States Congress
EffectiveAugust 6, 1965
Citations
Public law89-110
Statutes at Large79 Stat. 437
Codification
Titles amendedTitle 52—Voting and Elections
U.S.C. sections created
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 1564 by Mike Mansfield (DMT) and Everett Dirksen (RIL) on March 17, 1965
  • Committee consideration by Judiciary
  • Passed the Senate on May 26, 1965 (77-19)
  • Passed the House with amendment on July 9, 1965 (333–85)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on July 29, 1965; agreed to by the House on August 3, 1965 (328–74) and by the Senate on August 4, 1965 (79–18)
  • Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965
Major amendments
  • Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970[1]
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965, Amendments of 1975[2]
  • Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982[3]
  • Voting Rights Language Assistance Act of 1992[4]
  • Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, César E. Chávez, Barbara C. Jordan, William C. Velásquez, and Dr. Hector P. Garcia Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006[5][6]
United States Supreme Court cases

The act contains numerous provisions that regulate elections. The act's "general provisions" provide nationwide protections for voting rights. Section 2 is a general provision that prohibits every state and local government from imposing any voting law that results in discrimination against racial or language minorities. Other general provisions specifically outlaw literacy tests and similar devices that were historically used to disenfranchise racial minorities. The act also contains "special provisions" that apply to only certain jurisdictions. A core special provision is the Section 5 preclearance requirement, which prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. attorney general or the U.S. District Court for D.C. that the change does not discriminate against protected minorities.[11] Another special provision requires jurisdictions containing significant language minority populations to provide bilingual ballots and other election materials.

Section 5 and most other special provisions apply to jurisdictions encompassed by the "coverage formula" prescribed in Section 4(b). The coverage formula was originally designed to encompass jurisdictions that engaged in egregious voting discrimination in 1965, and Congress updated the formula in 1970 and 1975. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula as unconstitutional, reasoning that it was no longer responsive to current conditions.[12] The court did not strike down Section 5, but without a coverage formula, Section 5 is unenforceable.[13] The jurisdictions which had previously been covered by the coverage formula massively increased the rate of voter registration purges after the Shelby decision.[14] In 2021, the Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee Supreme Court ruling resulted in even more broad removals on the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act.[15][16] Following the ruling, Section 2 could no longer be used to regulate ballot collecting and out of precinct voting.[15][16]

Research shows that the Act successfully and massively increased voter turnout and voter registrations, in particular among blacks.[17][18] The Act has also been linked to concrete outcomes, such as greater public goods provision (such as public education) for areas with higher black population shares, and more members of Congress who vote for civil rights-related legislation.[19][20]