Kennedy on Passage of Historic Voting Rights Act
Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy released the following statement on the passage of the Voting Rights Reauthorization Act. The VRA passed the Senate with a vote of 98 to 0.
Today, we renew our commitment to the fundamental values of America. An election is the most important event in our democracy, and today we reaffirmed that every citizen should have an equal voice on Election Day. There is nothing more American than voting, and every American should have the right to vote. In this age of partisan politics and heated campaigns, it's more important than ever for our citizens to have a clear voice in the nation's future - and that's what we have assured today.
Voting is not just a ritual, but a right to determine the course of security, our prosperity, and our progress. With passage of this new law, we continue our national commitment to remove barriers to the ballot box for every citizen.
As we all know, there's been a revolution in civil rights since the 1960's, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a major part of it. I've been proud to be part of the great battles in Congress from the beginning, and we've been vigilant to protect the Voting Rights Act ever since. I recall watching President Lyndon Baines Johnson sign the 1965 Act just off the chamber of the Senate. We knew that day we had changed the country forever and indeed we had. In 1965 there were only 3 African American and 3 Latino members of Congress. Today there are 41 African-American members in the House, one African American Senator, 22 Latino House members and These gains would not have been possible without the Voting Rights Act.
With passage of this bill, our work does not end - it continues. Again and again, we hear reports of shameful tactics to deny certain Americans the right to vote. There was discrimination against Latinos in Texas which led to the Supreme Court's recent decision in LULAC v. Perry. And a federal court in Georgia has now had to strike down twice Georgia's discriminatory efforts to require that voters produce a photo i.d. The first time, the court found that the law was an unconstitutional poll tax. A poll tax in 2006! The second time, he found that the law made it less likely that minorities and the poor would vote.
We must be certain that the Voting Rights Act is enforced in every voting precinct in the land. At the heart of this issue is basic fairness. The nation must ensure that discrimination and its bitter legacy do not close the polls to any citizen.
This landmark bill ensures that all our citizens will have the right to play an effective role in our governance. It continues us down the path toward a democracy free of the blight of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and language. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "The time is always right to do what is right." Today the Senate did the right thing.