'Have You No Sense of Decency?'

These words, uttered at a hearing in Washington on June 9, 1954 by Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, put an end to the reckless political career of Senate demagogue Joseph McCarthy.

One is tempted to use the same phrase in contemplating the following box on the front page of The New York Times of August 2:

Voting Act, Undone
On the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, veterans of the civil rights movement met in North Carolina to battle one of the most restrictive state voting laws since the Jim Crow era. The outcome could determine whether the movement's signature achievement is still justified, or if the movement itself is finished.

The text refers the reader to a lengthy article in the magazine section by Jim Rutenberg on the history of the Voting Rights Act and the attempts to roll it back over the last 50 years and which may be near to succeeding. We will know the decision of the North Carolina court by the end of this year.

Not contrite about the South's having held a large proportion of the black population of the American Republic in slavery for two and a half centuries, the opponents of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are seeking to undo the act and thereby restrict the right to vote of black citizens guaranteed by the 15th Amendment of 1870, which also gave Congress the authority to enforce that right state by state. Though still on the books the amendment was in effect undone with the end of Reconstruction and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South in 1877, ushering in the Jim Crow era: the poll tax, the literacy test, and other measures were applied to block the black vote.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, contained unusually strong protections to ensure the black vote. Rutenberg singled out Section 5 of the act which named "specific states as bad actors that fell under special federal scrutiny."

Since then most of the white South has sought to undo this act in practice. But no smokescreen around such bywords as "states' rights" and "voter fraud" can obscure this disgraceful development.

We simply have to acknowledge that evil is afoot in this country, much as we love it.