Second Term 1965–1970
“The reason for reform and progress is not merely to head off conflict. The reason is to do what’s necessary and right.”
- Voting Rights Act of 1965
- Regarded as among the most effective federal civil rights legislation in U.S. history, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination in voting and sought to protect constitutional voting rights in state and local elections. In his first legislative initiative, Senator Kennedy worked tirelessly to add a ban of the poll tax to the 1965 bill. Despite a close vote in the Senate, his efforts were unsuccessful that year, but vindicated in 1966 when the Supreme Court ruled the poll tax unconstitutional.
- 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act
- In January of 1965, Senator Kennedy became chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees. Senator Kennedy cosponsored and managed the bill that became the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. Introduced by Senator Philip Hart (D-MI), this bill attempted to end discriminatory U.S. immigration practices by repealing the national origins quota system that favored Western European countries. Senator Kennedy believed that elimination of discriminatory quotas was an important step in strengthening civil rights.
- “One Man, One Vote” and Congressional Redistricting
- Senator Kennedy successfully teamed with Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) to preserve the Supreme Court’s “one man one vote” decisions, which required states to apportion legislative districts equitably. Kennedy and Baker together produced enough votes from their colleagues to halt legislation meant to negate the Court’s judgments. The “one man one vote” principle significantly changed the American political landscape, ending the disproportionate influence of rural legislative districts across the country.
- Neighborhood Health Centers
- Inspired by a 1966 visit to a neighborhood health clinic in Boston’s Columbia Point public housing project, Senator Kennedy sponsored legislation to create a nationwide network of such centers to provide treatment for low-income families. Followed by legislation in 1970 to create neighborhood mental health centers, this legislation marked the beginning of his ongoing fight for equal access to high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.
- The Humanitarian Cost of Vietnam
- Senator Kennedy became a leading voice in the anti-war movement. He carried forward with the efforts of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, after his tragic death. Senator Kennedy’s opposition to the war was influenced by inspection tours of Vietnam in 1965 and 1968 while leading the Refugees and Escapees Senate Subcommittee. He believed that the sheer numbers of refugees showed the tremendous humanitarian toll of a war the U.S. could no longer justify.
- Mental and Developmental Disabilities
- Senator Kennedy sponsored the 1970 legislation to improve federal programs for people with developmental disabilities, an issue with deep personal importance for his family. The 1970 legislation defined developmental disabilities on the national stage, expanded the population included within the definition, and laid significant groundwork for all legislation leading up to the Developmental Disabilities Act of 2000. The popular bill passed the Senate 69-0.