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Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy Hardcover – April 9, 2013
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The Supreme Court will soon consider Shelby County (AL) v. Holder, challenging the “pre-clearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act (which Congress extended for 25 years in 2006). For readers who don’t recall the era before the VRA’s hard-fought passage, in 1965, University of Delaware historian May offers an involving narrative of the law’s history and consequences. May’s prologue sketches African American voting rights from the Emancipation Proclamation to the early 1960s and spotlights national leaders (Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Evers, John Lewis, James Farmer, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) present when Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law. In the chapters that follow, however, he stresses the critical work of lesser-known activists, like Amelia and Sam Boynton, Bernard Lafayette, and James Forman, and the powerful impact they and their intransigent opponents, Sheriff Jim Clark and Alabama governor George Wallace, had on public and congressional attitudes. May then traces the bill’s dramatic legislative history, describes the results of its implementation, examines the issues in its four congressional reauthorizations, and outlines challenges it currently faces. An illuminating history of a law that remains all too relevant. --Mary Carroll
Bending Toward Justice offers up a bracing reminder of what has changed since the civil rights era, and what hasn't. --Dahlia Lithwick
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Not only did May do a good job of describing the civil rights movement, but he also did an excellent job of describing the somewhat tedious efforts to change the Voting Rights Act over the years, especially in 1982 when the Reagan Administration was in office. He also shows the danger of current efforts to roll back voting rights by such things as Voter ID, cutting back on early voting, eliminating same day registration where it exists, redistricting in a partisan manner, and denial of voting rights to ex felons, many of whom are from minority groups.
Voting rights for black citizens is only one of the many efforts to expand the franchise in the course of our country's history. The original Constitution only allowed white male property owners over 21 to vote. Now, women, and minorities and young people over 18 can vote, with no property restrictions.
The Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County vs. Holder in the summer of 2013, written after the book was completed, has challenged the "preclearance" section #5, which required states or other entities with a history of discrimination to get approval from the justice department for changes. Already such states as Texas and North Carolina have instituted more measures to suppress the vote.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said on the capitol steps in Montgomery at the end of the march from Selma, "The arc of the universe bends toward justice.." However, It requires eternal vigilance. This Is a must-read for those who participated in these events and those who are too young to have done so. It is an essential part of American history.
Another recent form of voter suppression has come in the rise of photo-ID requirements being implemented throughout the country. This issue has also made its way up the U.S. Supreme Court and in the case of Crawford v. Marion County (2008), the Court actually ruled such photo-ID requirements to be constitutional "on their face" despite the fact that there has never been one reported incident of in person voter fraud in the state of Indiana (where the case was based). If there is any question as to why such laws continue to be implemented, we need not look further than the partisan politics that makes up our political culture. Clearly, the best example of this was when Pennsylvania House member Mike Turzai said that voter-ID laws were "gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." After the election, even though President Obama ended up winning Pennsylvania, the Chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party stated that their Voter-ID laws had helped narrow to gap between the President and Gov. Romney. When taking the history of voter discrimination into account with current efforts underway this book can serve as an inspiration. Perhaps it will even call some of us who believe in a fair democracy to do whatever we can to make sure that ever vote is counted and all those who want to register are able to do so.
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but combines what the people did at Selma with what a President
did in Washington. Important.