The following blog is written by Toni Zimmer, President of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
After participating in the historic 50th Anniversary March on Washington in our nation’s capital this weekend, I still feel the giddiness and euphoria of being part of such an important and powerful event. As the first African American president of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, I felt especially proud to stand with so many other organizations to celebrate this commemorative March. The collective voice and sense of purpose from the thousands of people who graced the Mall could not be mistaken: We must have equality and justice for all, we must protect women’s rights, we must preserve our voting rights.
Today we celebrate another historic moment in time. It’s Women’s Equality Day, the historic anniversary of August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified giving American women the right to vote. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey joined in the original 1920 effort to launch this successful transition. But please, don’t kick up your heels just yet – that old cliché still holds true: “A woman’s work is never done,” especially when it comes to ensuring that voting rights for women, and men, are forever granted and protected.
This is especially relevant today because last June, the Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a decision that gave nine states, mostly in the South, the ability to change their election laws without advance federal clearance. Section 4 was created to determine which states would need approval from the Justice Department or a federal court to make major or minor changes to voting procedures, such as relocating polling places or redrawing electoral districts.
The negative effects of the Supreme Court decision were realized almost immediately. Before the ink on the 5 to 4 decision was barely dry, Texas placed a previously banned voter identification law into effect, and announced that their bogus redistricting maps were valid and no longer needed federal approval. We must implore Congress to pass a new bill to determine which states would be covered, once again, under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite the disappointing and unfortunate setback rendered by the Supreme Court decision, I believe it is important for us to remember the efforts of the strong women who maintained their focus and stood up more than 93 years ago to ensure that equality for women was realized through the passage of the 19th Amendment.
We might also take a moment to admire the many strong and principled women of today, such as Justice Ruth Ginsburg. In her dissent from the bench regarding Section 4, Justice Ginsburg drew on the words of Dr. King:
“The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and there called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress, even in Alabama,” she said. “ ‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said, but ‘it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.”