Judging the Voting Rights Act

59 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2007 Last revised: 15 Feb 2008

See all articles by Adam B. Cox

Adam B. Cox

New York University School of Law

Thomas J. Miles

University of Chicago - Law School


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

Suggested Citation

Cox, Adam B. and Miles, Thomas J., Judging the Voting Rights Act. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 108, 2008, University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 337, University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 159, 2nd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=977271

Adam B. Cox (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

HOME PAGE: http://rb.gy/kuotp3

Thomas J. Miles

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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