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The Voting Rights Act then and now

Almost half a century later, voting rights remain at risk.

Almost half a century later, voting rights remain at risk.

Forty-eight years ago Tuesday the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Over the course of the past five decades the VRA has been protecting the rights of minority voters.

This anniversary comes shortly after SCOTUS gutted the legislation in June. A majority of the court ruled that it was time for Congress to modify the legislation to match the current day. “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts said. Roberts was mistaken, however. It didn’t take long before southern states began rushing to implement new legislation that restricted minority voting rights.

SCOTUS put the responsibility of modifying the legislation in the hands of Congress--an institution whose disapproval rating is now at 83%, according to an NBC/WSJ poll.

“If the law is not renewed, voting advocates say states can return to the voter suppression of the 1950’s,” Ari Melber said Tuesday on The Cycle.

Under section 3 (which still stands) of the VRA, “Federal court can bail-in a state. But it’s much tougher. Plaintiffs have to indicate that there is an intent to discriminate rather than an effect of discrimination,” Gary May, author of Bending Toward Justice, said Tuesday on The Cycle.

Civil rights activists in the 1950’s began the fight for equality. “They put everything on the line--their jobs, their homes, and often their lives. Their courage is just extraordinarily transforming,” May said.

But now it is up to Congress to take responsibility and defend the victory of August 6, 1965.