Study Guide

Voting Rights Act Analysis

By U.S. Congress

  • Rhetoric

    Logos

    This little Act packs a huge logos punch.

    Even though logos is usually employed when you're trying to persuade someone of something—"Don't eat too much Halloween candy or you'll feel sick" or "Don't watch Psycho before staying in a motel, or you'll be too scared to take a shower"—sometimes it pops up in a legal document.

    After all, the rules and regulations laid out in the Voting Rights Act are grounded in logic. Although the Act doesn't shy away from the nitty-gritty details of who-what-where-when-how, the main idea is "Hey, you know how we said all men we created equal? Um, so far we haven't exactly been doing that. Here's a way to get back on that equality track."

    In other words: we promised something to all American citizens and here's how we keep that promise. Boom: logos in action.

  • Structure

    Legal

    This is a legal document, through and through. If you like sections and subsections, you'll love the Voting Rights Act.

    Documents like these will invariably be formatted in the same way—they're not really pleas or attempts at persuasion so much as they are ironclad rules, and keeping them in outline form makes the law clear.

    How it Breaks Down

    This document, as a law, is broken down into distinct sections, each tackling their own aspect of the law at large.

    The ideas build on each other chronologically in some places, such as explaining the steps the Attorney General takes in order to ensure a local jurisdiction follows proper voting procedure, but it doesn't always move as such; especially towards the end, where each section seems to cover an obscure legal requirement.

    Is it as exciting as a John LeCarré novel or as flowery as a Virginia Wolff joint? No; not at all. But it does get the job done…and that's what counts.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Voting Rights Act

    Pure, utilitarian goodness. If a title like The Fault In Our Stars is like a fancy pair of silk underwear, this title is like the five-for-five-dollar pack of gray cotton skivvies you picked up at Walgreens.

    Acts don't really have exciting names generally; usually it's a short blurb about the contents of the act (i.e. Voting Rights Act of 1965 for an act about Voting Rights enacted in—you guessed it—1965), or the name of someone involved in the act (i.e. Townshend Act).

    But even though the title isn't poetic, the contents of this act pack a wallop. This thing changed the dang face of America…for the better.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    AN ACT To enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act shall be known as the "Voting Rights Act of 1965."
    (1.1-2)

    The opening lines work more like an abstract than anything. If someone was skimming the first lines of every Act ever put into play, they should know more or less what the act is about at a glance. This puppy is putting the Voting Rights Act on the map.

    But it's kind of a cliffhanger, too. What is this mysterious Voting Rights Act? Read on to find out more!

    Okay, so it's not quite as provocative as "Call me Ishmael," or "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." But it does contain a nugget of suspense.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    "Approved August 6, 1965" (20.1)

    We'll spare you any English teacher-style readings of this one.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (7) Snow Line

    This is a critically important act to know…but unless you're an aspiring legal mind it's probably best to check out the short n' sweet version (which, if you're reading this, you're already doing), instead of mining through the boilerplate and jargon.

    Dense wording and a meticulous amount of detail (which is, admittedly, important for loophole stomping) can make reading this act quite the mental exercise. But hey: that's why we're here. We'll dissect the beast and you can save your puzzling energy for Sudoku.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    • 15th Amendment, United States Constitution
    • United States Code, Title 8, Section 2284
    • United States Code, Title 5, Section 118, subsection i
    • United States Code, Title 42, Section 1995
    • United States Code, Title 42, Section 1971
    • Civil Rights Act of 1957
    • Civil Rights Act of 1960
    • Civil Rights Act of 1964

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

    • South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966)
    • Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966)
    • Allen v. State Board of Elections (1969)
    • Oregon v. Mitchell (1970)
    • Beer v. United States (1976)
    • City of Rome v. United States (1980)
    • City of Mobile v. Bolden (1980)
    • Thornburg v. Gingles (1986)
    • Growe v. Emison (1993)
    • Voinovich v. Quilter (1993)
    • Shaw v. Reno (1993)
    • Holder v. Hall (1994)
    • Johnson v. De Grandy (1994)
    • Miller v. Johnson (1995)
    • Bush v. Vera (1996)
    • Lopez v. Monterey County (1999)
    • Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board (2000)
    • Georgia v. Ashcroft (2003)
    • League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006)
    • Bartlett v. Strickland (2009)
    • Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder (2009)
    • Shelby County v. Holder (2013)
  • Trivia

    The Act was expanded in 1975 to cover Indigenous Americans, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, or people of Spanish heritage. (Source)

    Two years after Shelby County v. Holder, Barack Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal "to the Foot Soldiers who participated in the Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act." (Source)

    Literary tests could be absolutely absurd. This Louisiana state literacy test asked voters to "Write every other word in this first line and print every third word in same line (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalize the fifth word that you write." Fun for a trivia book, less fun if you're trying to vote and effect any kind of local change. (Source)

    Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders were present at the signing of the Voting Rights Act. (Source)

    The act was still ignored in the South after it was passed, but its most important facet proved to be the power it gave citizens to challenge lax enforcement of the act. As a result, voter turnout among African Americans finally began to climb as more votes were finally counted. (Source)