Enforcing the Voting Rights Act

By Jason Clingerman

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. While this was a major milestone in ensuring that no one could “deny or abridge the rights of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race and color,” violations of individual voting rights still occurred. Acts of intimidation and threats of violence still prevented people from exercising their right to vote, particularly in the South. The federal government was responsible for enforcing the legislation and ensuring individual voting rights across the country. When observing Election Day this year, one should remember the troubles minorities faced in making their vote count and the efforts of the federal government to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (National Archives Identifier 2803443).

The National Archives has records relating to federal government responsibility in enforcing the Voting Rights Act. An example can be found in Record Group 60, the General Records of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In executing its enforcement responsibilities, the DOJ Civil Rights Division created case files on litigation resulting from violations of the Voting Rights Act. These case files can be found at the National Archives in College Park, MD (Archives II) in the series “Class 166 (Voting Rights) Litigation Case Files, 1958-1987” (National Archives Identifier 608587). Enclosures to these case files can be found in the series “Class 166 (Voting Rights) Enclosures, 1956-1987” (National Archives Identifier 613614).

While unclassified, these records may be restricted and are subject to screening for personal privacy and law enforcement information under 5 U.S.C. 552(b) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) prior to public release. For information on how to file a request to see records in this series, see the National Archives FOIA Reference Guide.

Also check out our previous blog post by Dawn Sherman-Fells, “FOIA: The Other ‘F’ Word (Accessing FBI Records),” for additional assistance in filing requests for records subject to screening. While that post mentions how to file for Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records, the format for case file numbers and the process for filing the request is essentially the same. However, instead of contacting the FBI to get case file numbers, one must contact the DOJ to get case file numbers for this series.