Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers


Is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act a Victim of Its Own Success?

Document Type



Columbia Law Review, Vol. 105, p. 1710, 2004.


With the 2007 renewal date for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act now approaching, the question must be addressed whether the legal and practical preconditions for this extraordinary statute still exist. This Essay suggests that there were four preconditions necessary for the striking successes that Section 5 had in transforming politics in its covered jurisdictions: the urgency of swift intervention to counteract the complete exclusion of black citizens from political life in the South; the ease of the administrative remedy; the absence of political competition in the one-party covered jurisdictions; and the lack of any incentive toward partisan manipulation of the preclearance powers exercised by the Department of Justice. Each of these factors has been changed by the creation of a robust political environment in the jurisdictions covered by Section 5, particularly by the establishment of an important core of influential black elected officials. This leads to the question of whether the success of Section 5 has compromised its mission, as reflected in the major decisions under Section 5 following the post-2000 reapportionment. The Essay concludes by questioning whether Section 5 has served its purpose and may now be impeding the type of political developments that would have been a distant aspiration when the Voting Rights Act was first passed.

Date of Authorship for this Version

January 2005


voting rights, Section 5, preclearance

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