The Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson exactly 48 years ago Tuesday, is widely credited with transforming the demographics of political representation in America. When the law was passed, five members of the U.S. Congress were black. Today's Congress has 44 black members -- as well as 38 Latinos, 13 Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders and 2 Native Americans, making it the most diverse Congress in history.
But civil rights advocates worry we may soon see a reversal of that trend. The June Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act severely restricted the federal government's ability to control the electoral policies of jurisdictions with extensive histories of discrimination, including a number of states in the South. Soon after the court's 5-4 decision came down, six southern states took advantage of their newfound freedom by embracing voting policies that could not or did not pass muster under the previous law.
Meanwhile, more than 30 states have passed voter ID laws in recent years, in what critics portray as a veiled attack on the voting rights of minorities.
Among the 44 black members of the current Congress is John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was brutally beaten while marching for civil rights in 1965. In a June speech after the Supreme Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act, he described the ruling as "a dagger" in the heart of the landmark law.
"The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist," he said, "and it does not matter that those attempts are not 'pervasive, widespread or rampant' as they were in 1965."