February 27, 2014 – Washington – Dozens of interfaith, intergroup and political leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. for a daylong AJC conference on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Participants explored the history and impact of the landmark legislation, and focused on bipartisan efforts to restore its efficacy in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decision striking down a key provision of the Act.
Recalling that Washington, DC, was once a segregated city in which such a gathering would have been unthinkable, Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, “AJC and the American Jewish community played an essential role in promoting equal rights for all. In joining in this campaign for voting rights, we are reclaiming that legacy of blacks and Jews working together to make a difference.”
Henderson called on conference attendees to mobilize in order to make a difference, especially in assuring bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act introduced in January.
“This conference is not only about the need for progress on voting rights,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in his keynote address. The breadth of attendees “portrays a picture of cooperation among America’s diverse communities.”
The AJC conference was cosponsored by the National Urban League, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice/Asian American Justice Center. Partner organizations were the National Council of Churches, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), and United Church of Christ. Representatives from the African-American, Asian-American, Latino-American, Arab-American, Hindu-American, Christian and Jewish communities attended.
“Voting rights are at the core of civil rights,” said Richard Foltin, AJC’s director of National and Legislative Affairs. “There is much to be done to assure a well-functioning electoral system in which all Americans have access to their precious franchise,” Foltin continued. “First and foremost, we must act collectively to undo the damage done in the battle against racially discriminatory voting practices when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
The conference featured the nation’s foremost experts on voting rights, including Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; Rev. Edward Hailes of the Advancement Project; Tefere Gebre of the AFL-CIO; Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera of NaLEC; Terry Ao Minnis of AAAJ/AAJC; Leslie Proll of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and, Julie Fernandes of Open Society Foundations. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Bobby Scott; and senior staffers for Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. James Sensenbrenner also addressed the conference.