Biden Hails Senate Passage of Voting Rights Act Renewal

Date: July 20, 2006
Location: Washington, DC

Biden Hails Senate Passage of Voting Rights Act Renewal

WASHINGTON, DC - Calling it one of the most important actions Congress will take this year, U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. today praised the Senate 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. The Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 98-0.

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.

"The Supreme Court said 120 years ago that voting rights are so important because they are ‘preservative of all rights,'" said Biden. "I couldn't agree more, and that's why the Voting Rights Act was and is so centrally important to our country."

Senator Biden noted that 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.

"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.' These are just new words for old sins."

Biden recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called President Johnson's support of the Voting Rights Act "a shining moment in the conscience of man." Biden concluded: "That moment must continue."

The bill has already passed the House. It now goes to the President for his signature.