Ralph Bunche Journal of Public Affairs

Publication Date

Spring 2015


The Voting Rights Act is perhaps the most successful civil rights law ever. Yet while one set of scholars regards the legislation’s success as evidence that it remains necessary and appropriate, another set of scholars regards that success as a sign that the VRA is obsolete and inappropriate. In this article, I argue that disagreement about the VRA stems from two fundamentally different analytical approaches. The antidiscrimination paradigm focuses on how key indicators of political empowerment have progressed since 1965. The nondiscrimination paradigm focuses on how far those indicators are from what would be observed in the absence of racial discrimination. By identifying these two perspectives, this analysis illuminates sources of scholarly disagreement about the Voting Rights Act and clears a path both to resolving related debates within Congress and the courts, and to investigating the empirical impact of each interpretation on the sustainability of the VRA.



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