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The Voting Rights Act’s Secret Weapon: Pocket Trigger Litigation and Dynamic Preclearance

Travis Crum

Yale University - Law School

December 3, 2009

Yale Law Journal, Vol. 119, p. 1992, 2010

Following NAMUDNO, the search is on for a way to save Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This Note offers a solution through an examination of the VRA’s most obscure provision: Section 3. Commonly called the bail-in mechanism or the pocket trigger, Section 3 authorizes federal courts to place states and political subdivisions that have violated the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments under preclearance.

This Note makes a two-part argument. First, the pocket trigger should be used to alleviate the NAMUDNO Court’s anxiety over the coverage formula’s differential treatment of the states. The Justice Department and civil rights groups should build off the handful of successful bail-ins and redefine the preclearance regime through litigation.

Second, the pocket trigger serves as a model for a revised VRA. The pocket trigger is more likely to survive the congruence and proportionality test because it replaces an outdated coverage formula with a perfectly tailored coverage mechanism - a constitutional trigger. It also sidesteps the political difficulties in designing a new coverage formula. The pocket trigger has the potential to create dynamic preclearance: A flexible coverage regime that utilizes targeted preclearance and sunset dates. This Note concludes by proposing possible amendments to the pocket trigger, such as adding an effects test or delineating certain violations which automatically trigger preclearance.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 47

Keywords: Voting Rights Act, pocket trigger, election law, civil rights

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Date posted: December 4, 2009 ; Last revised: July 7, 2010

Suggested Citation

Crum, Travis, The Voting Rights Act’s Secret Weapon: Pocket Trigger Litigation and Dynamic Preclearance (December 3, 2009). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 119, p. 1992, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1516265

Contact Information

Travis Crum (Contact Author)
Yale University - Law School ( email )
127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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