Washington, D.C. (Aug. 6, 2015) — Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In commemoration of this anniversary, Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) issued the following statements:
Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), CAPAC Chair:
“Voting is the great equalizer and a sacred tool of democracy. But for too long, we used race, background, education and more to keep many Americans away from the polls. That disenfranchisement was disastrous, silencing many and paving the way for more discriminatory policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment. But the Voting Rights Act, passed 50 years ago today, changed all of that. Finally, minorities had a voice that could not be silenced. And thanks to this historic law our government has become more diverse and representative of all communities.
“As the fastest growing racial group in the country, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are poised to be the margin of victory in upcoming elections. Yet, given the fact that AAPIs also have the highest rates of limited English proficiency, they can also be prey to the discriminatory voting laws that still exist today. So as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the VRA, let us dedicate ourselves to be a country that fights to give all voters a voice, not one that takes it away. Let us fight to restore the VRA.”
Senator Mazie K. Hirono (HI):
“Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) gave millions of Americans a voice in our democracy. For the first time, federal protections guarded minority voters against unfair and inhumane literacy tests and discrimination. While our nation has come a long way in fighting disenfranchisement, we still have a long way to go in ensuring every American has the right to cast a vote. One of the founding principles of our nation is that all are created equal. But our fight to ensure all are protected is not done. We must uphold and strengthen the VRA, and other pieces of critical civil rights legislation, to ensure that everyone is protected and no one is discriminated against, no matter who they are, who they love, where they live, or what they look like.”
Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17), CAPAC Chair Emeritus:
“We must work to preserve the full scope of the Voting Rights Act to protect every citizen’s right to vote. Far too often the basis for denying an American their right to vote is their skin color. Two years ago, we saw our voting rights chipped away at with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, and we have seen laws going on the books in North Carolina that further diminish the power of the VRA. Other states that have histories of discriminatory election laws and were under federal supervision have begun drafting similar laws. For all the progress we have made in this country, in order to celebrate our diversity and the significant contributions of all of our citizens, we must keep our voices strong to preserve justice, equality, and fairness in the voting process. We cannot let the path forward be blocked, and today we recommit ourselves to being champions for every person’s right to vote.”
Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), CAPAC Civil Rights Task Force Chair:
“The Voting Rights Act was one of the most consequential pieces of legislation of the Civil Rights Movement. The right to vote is the very foundation of our democracy. The Supreme Court noted in their 1964 decision in Wesberry v. Sanders that ‘no right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.’
“For the last 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has helped to guarantee that no one’s right to vote is undermined. The law has been instrumental in increasing voter participation, allowing minority communities to elect candidates of their choice, and increasing the number of African Americans and other minorities in elected positions at the local, state and federal levels of government.
“Unfortunately, as we mark this anniversary, we must recognize that Congress must act to restore core protections of the Voting Rights Act that helped ensure increased minority voter influence throughout the nation. In 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder undermined key provisions of the law, jeopardizing its effectiveness in protecting voters.
“It is my hope that in honor of the Act’s 50th anniversary, Congress will work together to restore these key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in order to protect all voters, especially those in states with a history of discrimination.”
Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08):
“The 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is an important time to reflect on the revolutionary impact of this sweeping civil rights law. But it is not enough to celebrate this anniversary – we must realize our work is not done. As the Roberts Court demonstrated in striking down major provisions of the VRA in 2013, if we are not vigilant in preserving American voting rights, future Courts and Congresses threaten to reverse five decades’ worth of progress. The freedom to vote is the foundation that makes our country great and Congress and the Supreme Court should not be in the business of taking Americans’ fundamental rights away.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13):
“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy and fifty years ago, our nation took an enormous leap for equality with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This landmark legislation was not inevitable – it was realized through the tireless struggle of civil rights foot soldiers who organized, protested and marched for equal rights. Now, after half a century of strong voting protections, our most basic constitutional right is at risk once again. Two years ago, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and put our fundamental right to vote in jeopardy. After fifty years of empowering voters, we cannot stand by as voters are stripped of these vital protections. On this anniversary, Congress must recommit to protecting the voting rights of all Americans.”
Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33):
“Fifty years after the landmark passage of the Voting Rights Act, it is unacceptable that many of the most fundamental voting rights are still the subject of partisan attacks. We must honor those who fought to pass the VRA – even in the face of odds that at times seemed insurmountable – by dedicating ourselves to restoring and preserving the democratic processes they worked so tirelessly to protect.”
Congressman Mark Takai (HI-01):
“The right to vote is rooted in the foundation of our country. Right now, there are efforts being undertaken to limit the ability of citizens of our nation to cast their vote. Disempowerment of a voter is an action that I feel contradicts the very principles on which this country was established. As we honor today’s Fiftieth Anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, we should also consider how to finally complete the process in ensuring equal voting rights for all Americans.”
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11):
“On this historic anniversary, we are reminded of the countless men and women who dedicated their lives to fighting for the right to vote. Their sacrifices led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which guaranteed essential voter protections for all Americans. These protections were eroded when the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the VRA, challenging Congress to develop a new formula. As we commemorate this landmark legislation, we must honor the people it was written to protect. Let’s recommit ourselves to rejecting intolerance and injustice, continuing the fight for equal rights, and ensuring every American has access to the ballot box. It is time to restore the VRA!”
Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52):
“When I was growing up, my Dad, a now-retired Lutheran minister, fought to desegregate housing in the suburbs of Detroit and taught me that everyone has value, we all deserve equal treatment, and that our country is best served by ensuring a voice for all – including through the ballot box. On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must celebrate how far we have come in making it easier for Americans to vote and stop efforts that curb the ability of our fellow citizens to cast their ballot. We should all be able to agree that our society is better off when we make it easier to fulfill the fundamental civic responsibility of voting.”
Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09):
“Having free and fair elections is essential for our democracy, and for 50 years now, the Voting Rights Act has played a critical role in protecting individuals’ right to vote regardless of race, ethnic background, or level of income. In Congress, we must be doing all we can to build on the Voting Rights Act and make it easier for folks to vote rather than make it harder with Voter ID laws and other discriminatory practices. I understand the importance of promoting balance, openness, and fairness in elections and I will fight for policies that ensure this.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14):
“It is shocking and reprehensible that anyone would try to disenfranchise another American citizen in the twenty-first century. But across the country, we see efforts to do just that. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must fight back by passing legislation to undo the damage the Supreme Court caused when it struck down one of its core enforcement provisions. This is not just about the South: Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act covered Monterey County, right next door to my district in California, because of its widespread use of literacy tests. We cannot allow any of these tactics to return.”
Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12):
“The 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is a sober and bittersweet reminder that much of the battle for the right to vote still remains before us. Unfortunately, Congress has thus far failed to reauthorize the critical protections the VRA provided for millions of Americans. The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy; policy makers should fight to expand, not roll or otherwise diminish that right. When the VRA was signed into law, Dr. King called it, ‘a great step forward in removing all the remaining obstacles to the right to vote.’ We would honor the legacy of leaders like King and the countless others who fought for this landmark legislation by continuing to remove those barriers, and ensuring every voice is heard on election day.”
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is comprised of Members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and Members who have a strong dedication to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Currently chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu, CAPAC has been addressing the needs of the AAPI community in all areas of American life since it was founded in 1994.