On this day 56 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, with Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at his side. Congress passed the legislation in response to a broad and diverse coalition of civil rights advocates’ unrelenting calls for stronger voting rights protections.
The legislation was passed with a 77-19 vote in the U.S. Senate and a 333-85 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was strengthened and re-authorized under Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, all Republicans.
In 2006, the last time the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized, Congress passed the legislation on a bi-partisan basis, with an unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate. Ten Republican senators who are still serving in the U.S. Senate today supported the legislation, including Senators Mitch McConnell, John Thune, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins.
Statement from Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn
Fifty-six years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The legislation remains a historic victory for We The People thanks to civil rights advocates like Martin Luther King, Jr., Diane Nash, and Congressman John Lewis, who never relented in their pursuit of a more perfect union. We also acknowledge the thousands of activists who will never have their names written in history books, but without whom victory would not have been possible. Though bloodied and beaten, they never gave up their good fight, knowing nothing was more sacred than the freedom to vote and have a say in our government.
In the five decades since it became law, the Voting Rights Act remains the strongest piece of civil rights and pro-democracy legislation in our nation’s modern history. With its passage, our country delivered on a promise made to Black Americans 95 years earlier in the 15th Amendment. The Voting Rights Act opened the doors to democracy to millions of eligible voters, seeking to ensure that all of us can cast a ballot and have our votes counted without discrimination, intimidation, or violence.
Yet the very attacks on our democracy that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act continue today. Partisan legislators across the country are engaging in coordinated attacks to dial back the civil rights progress made, and rollback the Voting Rights Act’s protections that make it illegal to deny any American the right to vote based on race.
Since 1965, voting rights have been supported across party lines. Both Democratic and Republican presidents and senators have supported the legislation as recently as 2006.
Voting rights are—and must always remain—a nonpartisan issue.
As President Johnson declared, “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote.”
We cannot afford to go backward. We urge President Biden and Congress to follow the lead of countless civil rights activists, who pushed President Johnson to sign the bill, and take us forward as a nation; to ensure every eligible voter can freely and fairly cast a ballot on Election Day. We must pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act without delay.
Until we do, Common Cause will continue to fight for a strong and inclusive democracy that invites every American to participate in the collective work of achieving a more equitable and just society.