From Selma to Ferguson: The Voting Rights Act as a Blueprint for Police Reform

72 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2016 Last revised: 21 Mar 2017

See all articles by Jason Mazzone

Jason Mazzone

University of Illinois College of Law

Stephen Rushin

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: February 11, 2016

Abstract

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 revolutionized access to the voting booth. Rather than responding to claims of voter suppression through litigation against individual states or counties, the Voting Rights Act introduced a coverage formula that preemptively regulated a large number of localities across the country. In doing so, the Voting Rights Act replaced reactive, piecemeal litigation with a proactive structure of continual federal oversight. As the most successful civil rights law in the nation’s history, the Voting Rights Act provides a blueprint for responding to one of the most pressing civil rights problems the country faces today: police misconduct. As with voter suppression in the mid-twentieth century, abusive police conduct against minority citizens is a national problem perpetrated by thousands of localities. Federal efforts to cure the problem through litigation against individual police departments have failed to produce widespread reform. This Article applies the lessons of the Voting Rights Act in proposing the use of a coverage formula to identify and regulate local police departments engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional misconduct. While this proposal would significantly enhance federal power over police departments, such a change is both necessary to curb police misconduct and constitutionally permissible.

Keywords: constitutional law, voting rights act, police misconduct, police reform, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Mazzone, Jason and Rushin, Stephen, From Selma to Ferguson: The Voting Rights Act as a Blueprint for Police Reform (February 11, 2016). 105 California Law Review 263 (2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2731347 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2731347

Jason Mazzone

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

Stephen Rushin (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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