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Political Avoidance, Constitutional Theory, and the VRA

8 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2008 Last revised: 12 Nov 2008

Richard H. Pildes

New York University School of Law


Constitutional theory and design have been dominated by the specter of legislative and executive institutions voraciously seeking to expand their powers. But in modern political practice, the flight from political responsibility - the problem of political abdication - is at least as serious a threat. Constitutional theory has paid too little attention to this problem. And as a matter of institutional design, we are still struggling to find tools to force political actors to take responsibility they would rather avoid. Abdication, not aggrandizement, is the common thread that unites Congress's virtual absence from any major policymaking role on terrorism-related issues in the first five years after September 11th and the recent reauthorization process for the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

This essay shows how the recent VRA renewal process presses scholars to consider the phenomenon of political avoidance and its implications for institutional design and constitutional theory.

Keywords: Constitution, Democracy, Elections, Voting Rights, Constitutional Theory, Political Process, Legislative Process

Suggested Citation

Pildes, Richard H., Political Avoidance, Constitutional Theory, and the VRA. Yale Law Journal Pocket Part, Vol. 117, p. 148, 2007; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 08-38. Available at SSRN:

Richard H. Pildes (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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