Section: News

Katz sets focus on voting rights in MLK Day address

Katz sets focus on voting rights in MLK Day address

The first letter Sean Decatur ever wrote was on Snoopy stationery to Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King. Kenyon’s president recounted this moment to a packed Rosse Hall during Monday’s MLK Day of Dialogue.

Ellen Katz, professor of law at the University of Michigan, delivered the day’s keynote address on the legacy of the Voting Rights Act, focusing on what she called the “dignitary” aspect of voting. “Why don’t we see dignity in the voting rights context as an operational principle?” she asked during her address.

Katz cited the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which rolled back some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and the recent proliferation of state laws requiring IDs for voting as failing to recognize the dignity conferred by the right to vote.

“I would like when we talk about voter ID that the lens be expanded, and that we think about the costs these measures impose,” Katz said in an interview Tuesday, noting that “Martin Luther King understood voting to be a fundamental right.”

Associate Professor of Chemistry Yutan Getzler chaired the committee that brought Katz to Kenyon. “This is the first election we have without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act,” he said as people were finding their seats Monday afternoon. “So it seemed her expertise would be a useful thing for us to hear.”

Jill Grubb, who recently moved to Gambier, attended the events because she was “curious if young people realize how hard people fought” during the Civil Rights Movement.  

Several times more people showed up Monday than did for last year’s slate of events. The Chamber Singers opened the event with a spiritual, and Gospel Choir and the Handsome Devils closed it with another song. The day also featured a panel discussion with Katz, Associate Professor of Political Science Abbie Erler, and Associate Provost Ted Mason.

In her introductory comments on the panel, Erler warned against relying on courts to protect the right to vote, noting that the Supreme Court has repeatedly narrowed the scope of the 14th Amendment.

“I think we should be concerned about voting rights in the future,” she said.


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at