Judging the Voting Rights Act
59 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2007 Last revised: 15 Feb 2008
The Voting Rights Act has radically altered the political status of minority voters and dramatically transformed the partisan structure of American politics. Given the political and racial salience of cases brought under the Act, it is surprising that the growing literature on the effects of a judge's ideology and race on judicial decisionmaking has overlooked these cases. This Article provides the first systematic evidence that judicial ideology and race are closely related to findings of liability in voting rights cases. Democratic appointees are significantly more likely than Republican appointees to vote for liability under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. These partisan effects become even more prominent when judges appointed by the same president sit together on panels. Moreover, a judge's race appears to have an even greater effect on the likelihood of her voting in favor of minority plaintiffs than does her political affiliation: minority judges are more than twice as likely to favor liability. This finding contrasts starkly with prior studies of judicial decisionmaking - studies finding that, across a range of legal questions, a judge's race has only a weak effect, if any, on the resolution of cases. As with partisanship, the so-called panel effects of race are strong, as white judges become substantially more likely to vote in favor of liability when they sit with minority judges. These findings have significant implications for a number of controversies, including debates about which institutions are best situated to protect minority voting rights and disputes about the role of diversity within the federal judiciary.
Keywords: voting rights act, judicial behavior, race, partisanship, election law, minority voting rights
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