1966 March 7

Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of 1965 Voting Rights Act


Exactly one year after the beatings of civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama (see “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965), which sparked national outrage and led to enactment of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act (August 6, 1965), the Supreme Court, in South Carolina v. Katzenbach, rejected the first constitutional challenge to the law. The case involved a rare exercise of original jurisdiction by the Supreme Court.

The Court: “Recognizing that the questions presented were of urgent concern to the entire country, we invited all of the States to participate in this proceeding as friends of the Court. A majority responded by submitting or joining in briefs on the merits, some supporting South Carolina and others the Attorney General. [n2] Seven of these States [p308] also requested and received permission to argue the case orally at our hearing. Without exception, despite the emotional overtones of the proceeding, the briefs and oral arguments were temperate, lawyer-like and constructive. All viewpoints on the issues have been fully developed, and this additional assistance has been most helpful to the Court.”

View a timeline on the history of the Voting Rights Act: https://www.aclu.org/timeline-history-voting-rights-act

Read: David Garrow, Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (1978)

Read: Chandler Davidson and Bernard Groffman, Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965-1990 (1994)

Learn more: Ari Berman, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (2015)

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