Edward Kennedy, Voting Rights Advocate, Dies
Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy died late last night at the age of 77. I’ve pulled from today’s New York Times obituary the many instances over his career that Senator Kennedy fought for voting rights and pasted them below. For the complete article, click here.
• Mr. Kennedy left his mark on legislation concerning civil rights, health care, education, voting rights and labor. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at his death. But he was more than a legislator. He was a living legend whose presence ensured a crowd and whose hovering figure haunted many a president.
• He returned to the Senate in 1965, joining his brother Robert, who had won a seat from New York. Edward promptly entered a major fight, his first. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Voting Rights Act was up for consideration, and Mr. Kennedy tried to strengthen it with an amendment that would have outlawed poll taxes. He lost by only four votes, serving lasting notice on his colleagues that he was a rapidly maturing legislator who could prepare a good case and argue it effectively.
• Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate. He led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation. He was deeply involved in renewals of the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing law of 1968.
• His most notable focus was civil rights, “still the unfinished business of America,” he often said. In 1982, he led a successful fight to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act.
In recent years, Senator Kennedy stayed active on the issue of voting rights, working for the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act and issuing a strong opinion about voter ID.
The New York Times obituary ends with a quote by our very own board member, Norman J. Ornstein:
“He was a quintessential Kennedy, in the sense that he had all the warts as well as all the charisma and a lot of the strengths,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute. “If his father, Joe, had surveyed, from an early age up to the time of his death, all of his children, his sons in particular, and asked to rank them on talents, effectiveness, likelihood to have an impact on the world, Ted would have been a very poor fourth. Joe, John, Bobby … Ted.
“He was the survivor,” Mr. Ornstein continued. “He was not a shining star that burned brightly and faded away. He had a long, steady glow. When you survey the impact of the Kennedys on American life and politics and policy, he will end up by far being the most significant.”
Photo of Senator Kennedy by Stephen Crowley for The New York Times.