The history of Voting Rights Act litigation is usually told as a tale of formal jurisprudential change. The history divides voting rights litigation into two periods separated by a sharp break—a break marked by an amendment to the text of the statute and by the introduction of a new doctrinal framework. The amendment occurred in 1982, when Congress recast § 2 of the Act as the central judicial tool for enforcing minority voting rights. The Supreme Court responded to this revision a few years later by forging a new doctrinal framework in the seminal case of Thornburg v Gingles. This transformation by Congress and the Court ushered in the modern era of vote dilution litigation. Lawsuits brought under § 2 became a centrally important mechanism for the enforcement of minority voting rights. And the framework laid down in Gingles became the linchpin of this litigation. This Article argues that the standard history is incomplete. The focus on the formal features of voting rights doctrine, while important, leaves out the actual practices of lower courts that decide voting rights cases.
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