50 years ago the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed in response to an era in which many states, particularly in the south, mandated literacy tests, poll taxes, and other devices to institutionalize the disenfranchisement of the African American vote.
There were thousands of dedicated citizens and grassroots organizers who sacrificed blood and tears fighting these discriminatory devices in order to ensure that all eligible Americans can participate in our democracy, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic background.
Our firm has been involved as counsel in several historic voting rights cases, including Chisom vs Edwards which desegregated the Louisiana Supreme Court as recently as 1986. The case was filed after years of legislation failed to reform judicial districts intentionally drawn to dilute the voting strength of Louisiana’s large African American voting population. Due to the courage of plaintiffs and the participation of the Legal Defense Fund, The Lawyer’s committee on Civil Rights and The Louis A. Martinet Society Chisom was won and Revius Ortique became the first elected Supreme Court Justice. The Honorable Bernette J. Johnson is now the Chief Justice of that Court.
Other cases have involved district courts, local parish councils and even the right of displaced New Orleanians to vote in city elections after Hurricane Katrina. Our record of participation in equal justice issues earned us the Louisiana Bar Association’s Pro Bono Award, one of its highest honors for public interest work.
But litigation shouldn’t be the only tool our citizens have to guarantee their right to vote – especially where we practice in Louisiana and Texas, where we repeatedly rank near the bottom of the country in voter turnout.
Working together, we can identify reforms that will protect voters and increase voter engagement. Voter apathy is a self-inflicted wound which dishonors the sacrifices of so many heroes. Combined with ceaseless efforts to discourage participation by cowardly legislatures and public officials, voter apathy can lead directly to the loss of influence and participation at the heart of so much dissatisfaction and marginalization. Voting matters!
The words of President Lyndon B. Johnson, speaking to Congress 50 years ago, remain apt today: “We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. And we ought not and we cannot and we must not wait … the time for waiting is gone.”
Celebrate the Voting Rights Act by encouraging everyone to vote.Tags: Chisom vs Edwards, democracy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Lyndon B Johnson, voting reform, Voting Rights