Letter to the Attorney General Directing an Assessment of the Voting Rights Act
June 15, 1981
As you are aware, certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act are due to expire in August of 1982. In its 15-year history, the Act has made a massive contribution to the achievement of full constitutional and political equality for black Americans. And by virtue of amendments added in 1975, the Act has helped to insure greater equality for other minorities, especially Mexican-Americans.
I am sensitive to the controversy which has attached itself to some of the Act's provisions, in particular those provisions which impose burdens unequally upon different parts of the nation. But I am sensitive also to the fact that the spirit of the Act marks this nation's commitment to full equality for all Americans, regardless of race, color, or national origin. Because my Administration intends to maintain that commitment, the question before us in the months ahead will not be whether the rights which the Act seeks to protect are worthy of protection, but whether the Act continues to be the most appropriate means of guaranteeing those rights.
Before making a final determination on the Act's extension or revision, I want to be assured that we have received and evaluatd the considered opinions of all concerned parties. Accordingly, I would like the Department to undertake, at your direction, a comprehensive assessment of the Act's history to date; extant or likely abuses of voting rights that may require special scrutiny; the adequacy of the Department's powers under the Act; your suggestions as to whether any changes in the Act may be desirable; and the feasibility of extending the Act's coverage to voting rights infringements not now covered by the Act.
Finally, in the course of developing your assessment, I would like you to consult with concerned citizen groups, state, local, and federal officials, and others whose thoughtful views will contribute to the development of a just and sound Administration position.
I understand that you have already begun this deliberative and consultative process, and I am pleased by this. It will be necessary, however, to complete our review in sufficient time to enable Congress to enact a bill prior to the expiration of the Act's special provisions. I would therefore like to receive your report not later than October 1, 1981.
[The Honorable William French Smith, The Attorney General, Washington, D.C. 20530]