Quick and Dirty: The New Misreading of the Voting Rights Act

Source: Justin Levitt Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2015-24, March 20, 2015

From the abstract:
The role of race in the apportionment of political power is one of the thorniest problems at the heart of American democracy, and poised to once again take center stage at the Supreme Court this Term. The Court has agreed to hear a case from Alabama involving the Voting Rights Act and the appropriate use of race in redistricting. But though the litigation posture of the case may not make it clear to the Court, Alabama is part of a disturbing pattern. Jurisdictions like Alabama have been applying not the Voting Rights Act, but a hamhanded cartoon of the Voting Rights Act — substituting blunt numerical demographic targets for the searching examination of local political conditions that the statute actually demands.

This short and timely Essay is the first to identify the ways in which multiple jurisdictions in this redistricting cycle appear to have substituted this cartoon of the Voting Rights Act for the real thing. It identifies the racial essentialism at the heart of the demographic shorthand, and contrasts that retrograde approach with the tailored and nuanced law on the books. It then elaborates the constitutional danger of replacing the real statute with the imagined one, and urges courts, including the Supreme Court, to see the cartoon for what it is.