To Protect the Right to Vote, Look to State Courts and State Constitutions

Joshua A. Douglas
Publication Date: 
August 6, 2015

As civil rights advocates and voters across the country gather to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, attention remains focused on the continuing need for robust federal protection of the right to vote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision. And two years after the decision, which dismantled a critical part of the 1965 Act, the need for Congress to act has never been greater. The right to vote, that right which the Court has described as “preservative of all rights,” deserves the utmost protection under federal statutory and constitutional law.

Despite the critical need for robust federal voting rights protections, other avenues exist for protecting the right to vote. In this Issue Brief, Joshua A. Douglas, Robert G. Lawson & William H. Fortune Associate Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky College of Law, argues that, as we rightly and vigorously continue to search for federal solutions to the mounting attacks on the right to vote, we should also embrace the direct protections provided that right by nearly every state’s constitution. While the federal constitution establishes an implicit right to vote, virtually every state constitution specifically and explicitly enumerates that right. Yet these state constitutional protections have been given insufficient consideration and independent force. As Douglas asserts, “a renewed, independent focus on state constitutions and their explicit grant of the right to vote is textually faithful to both the U.S. and state constitutions and will restore the importance of the most foundational right in our democracy.” Indeed, as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, there is no better way to honor its legacy than to protect the right to vote with every tool available, including state constitutions.