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Voting Rights in the United States: Voting Rights Act (VRA)

This guide serves as a starting point for legal research regarding voting rights in the United States.

Black and white photo of Young Congressman John Lewis, overlaid with quote "I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote, I am not going to stand by and let the supreme court take the right to vote away from us."

John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 was renamed in honor of late congressman John Lewis. The Act specifically seeks to remedy the wave of voter suppression following Shelby v. Holder by reinstating preclearance requirements and adding other voting protections.

VRA: section by section

A Brief History of the Voting Rights Act and its Challengers

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was passed by Congress in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. Black leaders had been organizing for decades to turn "one man, one vote" into a practical reality for marginalized Americans. Direct action events like the Selma to Montgomery marches in March of 1965 built momentum and pressured elected officials to pass legislation to actualize the voting rights of Black citizens. 

The Voting Rights Act notably targeted barriers placed on Black citizens at the state and local level preventing their vote. For examples of common voter suppression tactics both present and historical, view the Voter Restrictions tab of this research guide. The VRA targeted states with a history of suppressing the voting rights of racial minorities, and provided criteria against which to measure whether or not racial minorities were facing such suppression over time in those regions. The VRA was so successful in enfranchising Black Americans because the legislation required those states to receive federal approval before implementing changes to voter requirements (i.e. preclearance). Voter requirements made at the state level without federal approval could not be used to "den[y] the right to vote for failure to comply with such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure." 

The VRA has a history of being renewed and extended over time by various administrations while also facing numerous legal challenges in the Supreme Court. The 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder declared Section 4 of the act unconstitutional. Section 4 contained the "coverage formula" focusing on states with a historic tendency to infringe on the voting rights of Black Americans. Invalidating section 4 of the VRA essentially invalidated section 5, which included the language regarding federal pre-approval of voter requirement changes. 

Spotlight: Shelby County V. Holder

States Covered as a Whole
Applicable Date
Fed. Register
Date
Alabama
Nov. 1, 1964
30 FR 9897
Aug. 7, 1965
Alaska
Nov. 1, 1972
40 FR 49422
Oct. 22, 1975
Arizona
Nov. 1, 1972
40 FR 43746
Sept. 23, 1975
Georgia
Nov. 1, 1964
30 FR 9897
Aug. 7, 1965
Louisiana
Nov. 1, 1964
30 FR 9897
Aug. 7, 1965
Mississippi
Nov. 1, 1964
30 FR 9897
Aug. 7, 1965
South Carolina
Nov. 1, 1964
30 FR 9897
Aug. 7, 1965
Texas
Nov. 1, 1972
40 FR 43746
Sept. 23, 1975
Virginia
Nov. 1, 1964
30 FR 9897
Aug. 7, 1965


Edward Blum founded the 501(c)3 public charity, Project on Fair Representation. This conservative legal "defense fund" encourages cases challenging progressive rulings and legislation. 

Selected articles: 

Listen: President Johnson's Speech as he signs the Voting Rights Act

LBJ signing the Voting Rights Act "Recorded in Capitol Rotunda, this speech was given by President Lyndon B. Johnson before signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He discusses the significance of the bill and plans to enforce the act.  Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection."

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