From Selma to Ferguson: The Voting Rights Act as a Blueprint for Police Reform
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 revolutionized access to the voting booth. Rather than responding to claims of voter suppression through litigation against individual states or localities, the Voting Rights Act introduced a coverage formula that preemptively regulated a large number of localities across the country. In doing so, the Voting Rights Act replaced reactive, piecemeal litigation with a proactive structure of continual federal oversight. As the most successful civil rights law in the nation’s history, the Voting Rights Act provides a blueprint for responding to one of the most pressing civil rights problems the country faces today: police misconduct. As with voter suppression in the mid-twentieth century, abusive police conduct against minority citizens is a national problem perpetrated by thousands of localities. Federal efforts to cure the problem through litigation against individual police departments have failed to produce widespread reform. This Article applies the lessons of the Voting Rights Act by proposing the use of a coverage formula to identify and regulate local police departments engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional misconduct. While such a law would significantly enhance federal power over police departments, such a change is both necessary to curb police misconduct and constitutionally permissible.