HomeLearning CenterLessons From the Women Leading Today’s Fight for Voting Rights

Lessons From the Women Leading Today’s Fight for Voting Rights

Originally published by Rachel Selzer for Democracy Docket

Last October, Leah Aden made history when she stood at the U.S. Supreme Court lectern to argue against South Carolina’s racially discriminatory congressional map. Aden, a tenacious voting rights and redistricting litigator at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, joined a small but redoubtable handful of Black women attorneys who have advocated before the nation’s high court over the last few decades. 

Just one year earlier, Abha Khanna, a partner at Elias Law Group, made her debut at the Court as she incisively presented oral argument in Allen v. Milligan — a Voting Rights Act case that culminated in a resounding victory for Black Alabamians who will have an opportunity this November to elect their preferred candidate in an additional congressional district. Khanna, a seasoned redistricting lawyer and the daughter of Indian immigrants, was one of only two women advocates representing private clients during the Court’s October 2022 session. 

Despite the conspicuous dearth of women — particularly women of color — who have argued  before the Supreme Court, numerous women have helmed the historical and contemporary fight for voting rights and contributed to the creation of a more inclusive, multiracial American democracy. In 2024 — both on the ground and in the courts — many women are building on the legacies of historical icons such as Ida B. Wells-BarnettMary Church Terell and Fannie Lou Hamer who pioneered the original movement for women’s suffrage and equal access to the ballot box.

Earlier this month, Aden returned from a weekend sojourn to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the infamous Bloody Sunday attack on peaceful voting rights marchers. In an interview with me, she reflected on the significance of that trip, which took place at the conclusion of Black History Month and the start of Women’s History month: “Selma — where people risked their lives, their jobs and more — is emblematic of generations of women who were the first… to put themselves on the line, not just for themselves, but for other people whom they couldn’t even fathom would come after them.”

This Women’s History Month, Democracy Docket is not only remembering those women “who were the first,” but also celebrating and highlighting the contributions of the women who have “come after.” I spoke to just a few of the many women attorneys and activists who are at the vanguard of today’s fight for voting rights and heard about their work, what motivates them and why they remain committed to protecting our democracy. Here is what I learned from the women who are presently making history.

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