"The Law Is Good"

The Voting Rights Act, Redistricting, and Black Regime Politics

by Steven Andrew Light

Tags: Civil Rights/Race and the Law, Election Law

Table of Contents (PDF)

282 pp  $37.00

ISBN 978-1-59460-286-3

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The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the most important civil rights law in U.S. history, facilitating unprecedented levels of minority political participation and achieving the promise of equality for all Americans. Despite a controversial series of decisions in the 1990s in which the U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on the constitutionality of race-conscious electoral districts drawn to satisfy the VRA, such districts remain important determinants of minority electoral success. Today, governing regimes in communities throughout the South are headed by black officials elected from districts drawn with federal oversight and approval.

There has been tremendous progress on minority voting rights, but the end of the story has yet to be told. Congress recently reauthorized the VRA to combat ongoing voter discrimination, but Barack Obama's election led some, including the Supreme Court, to question whether the VRA was still essential. The upcoming round of redistricting following the 2010 Census is sure to generate additional discussion about the current role of race in America.

"The Law Is Good" addresses three questions of central importance: What is the VRA? How does it work? And do we still need it in the 21st century? While debate over the VRA has focused on race-based redistricting at the federal and state levels, "The Law Is Good" considers how it has transformed local communities. Focusing on how regular people grapple with issues of race, redistricting, and regime politics, this account describes the struggle for minority voting rights and representation in small-town Tallulah, Louisiana. Despite electoral success facilitated by the VRA and race-conscious redistricting, Tallulah's black rural regimes face significant challenges still to overcome, and the VRA remains an important tool to ensure effective political representation.

"The Law Is Good" is authored by an insider who served as a Civil Rights Analyst in the U.S. Department of Justice's Voting Section. Drawing on primary-source materials that illustrate how communities like Tallulah interact with the federal government to implement the VRA at the local level, "The Law Is Good" is a highly accessible and engaging account of the relationship between minority voting rights and race politics. It is a must-read that will generate impassioned discussion about the role of race in America—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

"This book's most significant accomplishment is providing a concise narrative of what the VRA is, how it works, and why it is still needed. Light's most sound and accurate argument is that the VRA has been successful in removing barriers to minority enfranchisement although it is not a perfect piece of legislation, but according to former African American mayor Theodore Lindsey of Tallulah, 'the law is good.'" — Pearl K. Ford Dowe (University of Arkansas), The American Review of Politics, Volume 32, Winter 2011-2012