Date of Degree

5-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Political Science

Advisor

Andrew J. Polsky

Subject Categories

Political Science

Keywords

Colorblind Conservatism; Federal Government; Federalism; Party; Race; Voting Rights Act

Abstract

Recent activity by state governments to change voting rights law to limit access to the polls by minority voters, and directly challenge the legislation that protects voters from discrimination based on race, reveals an unsettling trend: states are increasingly comfortable challenging the federal mandate promulgated by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The Voting Rights Act was once hailed as a crown jewel in the constellation of legislation born of the Civil Rights movement. Its implementation had a significant positive impact, expanding the integration of polls and elected offices. Reauthorized four times since 1965, the VRA appeared to have become a permanent piece of the American voting system. Yet in fact, the VRA has endured significant opposition from conservatives since 1965, opposition that has influenced the federal government that implements the law. The effort to weaken the protection made possible by the VRA is driven by race-based Republican partisanship interested in the establishment of a durable conservative majority. Recently, a challenge to Section 5 of the VRA, Shelby v. Holder (2013), resulted in a Supreme Court decision that ruled Section 4 of the Act is unconstitutional, thereby removing Section 5 coverage over all the states required to submit to federal review of their voting law changes.

This dissertation examines how the development of conservatism since 1965 has affected the implementation of the Voting Rights Act and the response by the federal government and the states to the law and its implementation over time. I argue that the development of colorblind conservatism and the ideological platform undergirding it has had a chilling and potentially devastating impact on the federal government's implementation of the spirit and letter of the VRA, on stated adherence to the mandates and intention of the Act, and, ultimately, on the rights of those the VRA was designed to protect.

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