The U.S. Justice Department & the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Middlemass, Keesha Michelle
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Scholars have examined the politics and legal fallout related to redistricting, and over the last decade a great deal of research probing the political, constitutional and legal issues surrounding the creation of new districts has emerged; however, the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, in particular Section Five, remains largely unexplored. Utilizing the redistricting environment, this research examines the Justice Department’s review process, focusing specifically on the implementation of Section Five of the Act in nine southern states. Section Five of the Act grants the Justice Department the authority to scrutinize electoral and voting changes made by state and local governments. Preclearance requires “covered” states and local governments to submit any new electoral schemes to the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia for approval prior to implementation. In order to conceptualize the implementation of Section Five, principal-agent theory is used. Principal-agent theory provides a theoretical framework that simplifies the complex interrelationships between the respective institutions involved in the interpretation, execution and implementation of Section Five of the Act, namely the Justice Department, the federal courts, the Congress and the White House. This institutional perspective is supported by an examination of the legal dimensions under which the Justice Department operates while taking into account congressional amendments to the Act. These frameworks are further explored via a content analysis examining Justice Department preclearance documents. Preclearance letters provide an important resource to investigate preclearance decisions. In order to discover the factors that the Justice Department uses during its review of redistricting plans, each redistricting plan is treated as a single entity. Justice Department preclearance decisions are then examined in order to determine the degree to which these variables influence the Justice Department’s preclearance decisions from 1970 to 2000.