This past weekend marked the 60th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The ruling sparked a civil rights revolution that led to the demise Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory policies designed to marginalize African-Americans. Our schoolhouses are now open to all, regardless of race, and poll taxes and literacy tests are incomprehensible relics of a past when our nation failed to live up to its ideals.
With the benefit of hindsight, these changes seem inevitable. But we should never forget the momentous role that the Brown decision played in this process. It articulated the principle that inequality, even under the guise of equitable treatment, is immoral and antithetical to our constitutional rights. Without Brown, our country would have taken much longer to rectify its racist past. Instead, within a decade, equality was codified in our laws by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Knowledge of our country’s long struggle to overcome institutionalized racism is why it is so distressing to witness conservative state legislatures strategically pick apart many of these protections across the country, particularly in the area of voting rights. Abetted by last year’s errant Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, state lawmakers have enacted onerous voter ID laws and restrictive voter and absentee registration rules with the express intent of limiting access to the ballot for many citizens. Even worse, state sanctioned purges of voter rolls have stripped lawful voters of their right to participate in our democracy. These actions are wrong and demonstrate an ignorance of our country’s history of racial injustice.
While the Brown decision focused specifically on racial discrimination, it also helped initiate remarkable progress in addressing inequities throughout society over the last 60 years. Perhaps no transformation is more apparent than our country’s treatment of LGBT Americans, which closely parallels the civil rights movement. Where once black soldiers were consigned to separate units, gay and lesbian soldiers who protected our freedoms were forced to hide their identity in order to serve. Just as mixed race couples were once forbidden to marry, gay and lesbian individuals across the nation were prohibited from marrying the person they loved. Through court decisions and the determined advocacy of countless Americans, these laws have been challenged and equality is on the rise. These achievements for LGBT Americans ultimately have their roots in the Brown decision.
But the path to a more perfect Union is unending. We must continue to fight to address injustices in our society, strengthen existing protections against discrimination, and block efforts to roll back current civil rights laws. I will continue to support these effort in Congress to ensure equal treatment under the law is not just a slogan, but a right of every American.