The Promise and Pitfalls of the New Voting Rights Act

Persily, Nathaniel A.

In the summer of 2006, Congress reauthorized the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) with a unanimous vote in the Senate and with limited opposition in the House of Representatives. The veneer of bipartisanship that outsiders perceived in the final vote glossed over serious disagreements between the parties over the meaning of the central provision of the new VRA, which prohibits voting laws that "diminish the ability" of minority citizens "to elect their preferred candidates of choice." Those disagreements came to the surface in a fractured Senate Committee Report released only after Congress had passed the law. This Article describes the unprecedented legislative history of this law, and the political and constitutional constraints that led the law to take the form that it did. It also presents an interpretation of the new retrogression standard that avoids the partisan bias of alternatives while emphasizing the importance of racially polarized voting to the constitutionality and meaning of this new law. It urges that the new law be read as preventing redistricting plans that reduce the aggregated probability across districts of the election of candidates preferred by the minority community and disfavored by whites.


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Yale Law Journal

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November 14, 2011