Voting Rights Act (United States) (1965)
Prior to World War II (1941–45), there was practically no registration of minority voters in the South. In 1940, only 3 percent of otherwise eligible black voters were registered. The federal government had been ineffectual in its haphazard attempts to undermine the disenfranchisement of blacks that was routinely being practiced in the South through the use of intimidation and various economic and literacy tests, mainly because previous Supreme Court decisions had limited congressional authority in enforcing amendments passed during the Civil War (1861–65) but also because of the strength of the southern voting bloc in the Senate. By 1957, a modest civil rights measure was passed, enabling the attorney general to seek injunctions against violation of the Fifteenth Amendment guarantee that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Beginning in the early 1960s, acts of violence, including the murder of voting-rights activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi, gained national attention. The attack by state troopers on peaceful protesters in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, convinced President Johnson that special legislation was necessary to overcome southern resistance to the implementation of equal voting rights, despite the protections already offered in the Fifteenth Amendment. According to Minnesota senator Walter Mondale, a Democrat, the “outrage” in Selma made “passage of legislation to guarantee southern Negroes the right to vote an absolute imperative for Congress.”
Between 1965 and 1969, on several occasions the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the preclearance requirement in Section 5, arguing that “case-bycase litigation was inadequate to combat wide-spread and persistent discrimination in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics invariably encountered in these lawsuits.”
The Voting Rights Act was amended in 1970, 1975, and 1982, further strengthening protection of voting rights. By the end of the 1960s, registration of black voters in the Deep South had increased to more than 60 percent, and an increasing number of African Americans were being elected, mainly at local and county levels.