The 54th Anniversary Of Bloody Sunday In Selma: Announcing Essential Voting Rights and Democracy Reform Priorities

By: Senator Chuck Schumer

On March 7th, 1965, civil rights activists embarked on a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Hundreds set off together, determined to drive change and bring attention to widespread civil rights abuses happening in the deep south.

At Edmund Pettus Bridge, protesters were met with tear gas, billy clubs, and police dogs. State troopers drove through the demonstrators on horses, striking down as they went. Men, women, and children were brutally attacked while spectators cheered.

This day would come to be called Bloody Sunday; an indelible bruise on our nation’s history.

Bloody Sunday would ultimately become the catalyst for one of the most important civil rights laws ever passed by the United States Congress — the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

For more than 50 years, the law stood as a powerful force to prevent the type of racial discrimination in voting that plagued our nation’s history prior to the bill’s passage.

But in 2013, with Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted critical VRA provisions that until then had allowed the federal government to prevent states with a history of discrimination from implementing changes to their voting rules without preapproval.

The response to Shelby was sharp and immediate.

Texas legislatures immediately re-imposed the strictest voter ID requirement in the United States.

In states like North Carolina, the gap caused by the Shelby decision opened the door for the Republican legislature to pass a wave of new laws designed to limit access to the ballot box, including a new photo ID requirement, drastic cuts to early voting, and the end of same-day registration.

A 2018 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found minority voters in North Carolina were “subjected to cutbacks in same-day registration, early voting, and out-of-precinct voting, along with a strict voter ID law, all of which were found by a federal court of appeals to be intentionally discriminatory.”

The North Carolina bill was ultimately struck down after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found it “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Today, barriers to voting can be found across the country. Long lines at the polls, polling place closures, and shortages in equipment, like polling machines, make voting harder for people of color, the young, and the poor.

On the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday this month, I announced voting and Democracy Reform priorities.

My proposal focuses on three things: the restoration of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), nationwide automatic voter registration, and D.C. Statehood.

  • A Vital Fix to the Shelby County v. Holder Decision: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) is one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in our nation’s history. For more than 50 years, the law stood as a powerful force to prevent the type of racial discrimination in voting that marred our nation’s history prior to the bill’s passage. In 2013, the Supreme Court in its Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted the law’s critical preclearance provisions that had previously allowed the federal government to prevent states with a history of discrimination from implementing changes to their voting rules without preapproval. In the years since, states across the country have rushed to pass laws that have disproportionately limited access to the ballot for people of color, young people, and the poor. I’m a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S.561) — introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — which would restore the VRA’s foundational protections and ensure that America does not backslide further into the darkest days of our democracy.
  • Nationwide Automatic Voter Registration: Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration, with more states expected to pass the reform soon. I will co-sponsor the Automatic Voter Registration Act — soon-to-be re-introduced by Senators Leahy, Klobuchar, and Durbin — which would require every state to automatically register people eligible to vote when they interact with certain state and federal agencies unless those people decline. This would ensure that as many as 50 million eligible citizens who are currently not on the voter rolls are able to sign up.
  • D.C Statehood: D.C. residents have all the obligations of citizenship, including paying federal taxes and serving in every war since the Revolutionary War, but are denied voting rights in Congress and self-government. I’m a co-sponsor of the Washington D.C. Admission Act (S.631) — introduced by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) — which would eliminate this double disenfranchisement — it would give D.C. full voting rights and full home rule.

We must continue fighting for voter access and continue protecting the ballot box. My proposal aims to do just that.

Voting rights aren’t a Democrat issue or Republican issue. Access to free and fair elections benefit all Americans.

Disenfranchising voters, of whatever race, creed, color, of whatever party, of whatever region, is a despicable act. Efforts to suppress the vote can’t, and won’t, be tolerated.

With voting rights under attack, Congress must act.

And we must act now.