Biden Lauds Judiciary Committee Passage of Voting Rights Act Renewal
WASHINGTON, DC - Calling it one of the most important bills before Congress, U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. today praised the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing legislation that would renew key sections of the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, a bill that banned discriminatory practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes, designed to deny African Americans the right to vote.
Senator Biden co-sponsored the bill and has long-supported its provisions. In 1982 he played a key role in attaining a compromise that extended the original VRA of 1965 by working closely with Senator Dole to craft language that gave the bill the bipartisan support necessary to break the impasse with conservative forces in the Senate and the White House. Though the law has been renewed several times since its initial passage, some portions of the law are set to expire in August 2007.
According to Biden, the Act began a true transformation of our country. In 1964, there were only 300 African-Americans in public office, including just three in Congress. Today, there are more than 9,100 black elected officials, including 43 Members of Congress - the largest number ever. The Act also helped open the way for the 6,000 Latino public officials elected and appointed nationwide, including 263 at the state or federal level, 27 of whom serve in Congress. "But we shouldn't just rest on the successes of the recent past," said Senator Biden. "We must remain vigilant. For hundreds of years, our country struggled with slavery and the fact that nothing more than a person's skin color could determine his or her prospects in life. Even after we enacted the Fifteenth Amendment, our country struggled with Jim Crow laws and persistent discrimination.
"We've now had the Voting Rights Act for 40 years, which may seem like a long time, but compared against our long and shameful history of race discrimination, 40 years seems pretty short.
"Thankfully we have come a long way since signs emblazoned on windows read: coloreds need not apply' and whites only.' But let's not be lulled into a false sense of security: racism - though much more subtle - still exists. African Americans can apply for a job alright, but they might not get it because they're not the right type,' or they just wouldn't fit in.' New words for old sins.
"Our recent history still finds sophisticated discrimination occurring when it comes to voting; and we must be especially vigilant here because voting is such a cornerstone of our democracy. We must continue to ensure diversity in our democracy and protect the rights of all Americans irrespective of race, gender, or national origin.
Specifically, the Committee's passage of today's legislation addresses the following portions of the bill set to expire in August, 2007:
Sections 6, 9, and 13, which authorize of the U.S. Attorney General to appoint and send federal examiners and observers to the covered jurisdictions to deter, witness, and report on discriminatory activities at the polls.
Section 4(b), which determines which states and subdivisions are covered by the Act's provisions.
Section 5, which prevents enforcement of any election law that would have a racially discriminatory effect.
Section 203, which requires that states and municipalities provide language assistance in those areas where minorities with low English proficiency constitute a substantial segment of the population. These provisions are due to expire in 2007, unless reauthorized.
The bill now heads to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.