Posted by on March 07, 2015 in Blog

Today, President Barack Obama is in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the iconic marches that turned violent. Aptly referred to as “Bloody Sunday,” the march in Selma was an important turning point in the civil rights movement. Worldwide TV coverage broadcast powerful and shameful images of police officers brutally attacking nonviolent marchers who were attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The resulting media attention and government intervention to protect future civil rights marches helped spur the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) just five months later, in August 1965.

 As national attention focuses in on the anniversary of both the march and the VRA, we must not only remember what has taken place in the recent past, but we must use this as a time to reflect on the state of voting rights today. As many columnists have already pointed out (here, here, and here), voting rights for minority communities are still not guaranteed, and recent laws in over 20 state legislatures jeopardize the right to vote for all citizens. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted key protections in the VRA, making it possible for states to make it harder to vote. Since the VRA has been stripped of certain provisions, we’ve seen states pass laws to decrease early voting periods, require photo ids that are difficult to obtain and sometimes cost prohibitive, deny the right to vote to convicted felons, limit the number of registration drives, and change ballot casting rules. All of these changes disproportionately impact the ability of minorities and the elderly to cast a ballot.

 As President Obama, former President Bush, and senior Democratic members of the House and Senate (notably, only 1 senior Republican elected official will be in attendance, after much controversy) gather to recognize the somber anniversary of the Selma march and to celebrate the great achievements of the civil rights movement, we hope that this will be a platform for strengthening the power of those who continue to fight for the same issues today.

 For the most current analysis and updates on challenges to the VRA in state legislatures across the country, check out the Brennan Center for Justice’s website.