Bill Clinton focuses on voting rights in Civil Rights Summit speech


Shelby Tauber

Guests of the Public Affairs Alliance for Communities of Color’s Civil Rights Summit Watch Party watch a live stream of former President  Bill Clinton’s speech at the Scholz Garten on Wednesday evening. Clinton emphasized the issue of voter ID laws in his speech, as well as the importance of the Civil Rights movement’s role in elections. 

Julia Brouillette

Former President Bill Clinton emphasized the issue of voter ID laws during his speech Wednesday at the Civil Rights Summit, saying they disenfranchise voters and do not align with the goals of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Clinton also said students should be able to use their student IDs to vote.

“Here in Texas, the concealed carry permit counts, but there’s one photo ID that doesn’t count: one from a Texas institution of higher education,” Clinton said at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium. “This is a way of restricting the franchise after 50 years of expanding it.”

Clinton, who was the second president to appear at the summit after former President Jimmy Carter spoke on Tuesday evening, said the U.S.’s voting laws impair some people’s abilities to vote.

“Anytime you erect a barrier to political participation that disenfranchises people based on their income or race, it undermines the spirit of the Civil Rights Act,” Clinton said.

Clinton emphasized the importance of the civil rights movement in the election of the last three Democrats to win the presidency.

"We’re here because the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act made it possible for Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and I to become president of the United States,” Clinton said.

Guests react to Bill Clinton's speech at a Civil Rights Summit watch party at Scholz Garten on Wednesday evening. Photo by Shelby Tauber / Daily Texan Staff

The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in public places based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, while the Voting Rights Act extended federal oversight of elections to prevent discrimination in voting. President Lyndon B. Johnson lobbied for and signed both landmark pieces of legislation.

Student Government President Kori Rady said the elimination of obstacles such as Texas’ current voter ID restrictions is crucial to increasing voter turnout on campus.  

“We can get the ball rolling and get this conversation started, and having a former president of the United States start the conversation definitely helps,” Rady said.

Clinton demonstrated commitment to civil rights in multiple areas during his presidency, according to Gregory Vincent, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

“He made a very conscientious effort to have his cabinet reflect the diversity of America,” Vincent said.

Law assistant professor Cary Franklin said Clinton’s legacy is tainted by the Defense of Marriage Act, which he signed in 1996.

“I don’t think the marriage equality story is a very happy one from Clinton’s presidency,” Franklin said. “He wasn’t enthusiastic about signing that bill. ”

Clinton said in order to progress civil rights, people should focus less on their racial and gender differences.

“We are genetically 99.5 percent the same,” Clinton said. “Why are we risking the future of this great experiment, the wide horizons that Lyndon Johnson and his colleagues open to us, by spending 99 and a half percent of our time on that half percent of ourselves that is different?”