While the Voting Rights Act was comprehensive legislation that provided a variety of protections, sections 2 and 5 of the Act took center stage beginning in the 1980’s, when the focus changed from ensuring poll access to redistricting and the effects gerrymandering had on minority voters. Section 2 has been primarily used to thwart certain techniques used to redistrict political boundaries that result in dilution of a minority population’s vote. Section 5 covered specific jurisdictions (mostly in the South) that had been found to be particularly pernicious in their efforts to deny voting rights to African-Americans and requires those jurisdictions to “pre-clear” any changes to their voting system either with the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC.

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15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment guaranteed citizens the right to vote and protected that right from being abridged on account of race or color, it also specifically authorized congress to enforce it by enacting legislation. Accordingly, congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement to aggressively enforce the amendment in states and localities that continued to deny African-Americans the voting franchise using state and local laws. 

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  • Federal legal provisions include the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act.


  • Much of redistricting is governed by the case law precedent of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts following the 1962 Baker v. Carr decision.

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Since each state is the master of its own redistricting map. Many state constitutions include language governing the process and what line drawers can and cannot do. While governing provisions vary from state to state, many state laws include language that requires maps to be drawn according to traditional redistricting principles such as contiguity, compactness, and limiting the crossing of established political subdivision boundaries. The U.S. constitutions’ requirements and the federal statutes and case law that flow from it however, are paramount in the formulation of any redistricting plan whether it be a small municipal district or a congressional plan. Here is a summary of the federal law affecting redistricting. 

14th Amendment

Redistricting became mandatory as a matter of federal law after the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Baker v. Carr,1 which interpreted the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to require that political districts be equal in population so that one person’s vote would not weigh more than a another person’s vote who resides in separate a district with substantially less population than the first. For example, a voter in a political district with 100,000 residents will have 3 times more voting power to elect a representative than a voter in a district with 300,000 residents. The court’s ruling is known as the “one man, one vote principle." 

Article 1, Sec 2 of the U.S. Constitution 

The census clause of the U.S. Constitution requires an actual enumeration of the country’s population on a decennial basis for purposes of congressional reapportionment of seats among the states. The Supreme Court held in 19992 that reapportionment must be carried out using the Census Bureau’s actual enumeration and not the statistically adjusted data that it also obtains. Whether or not this also applies to redistricting is still an open question but the Census Bureau and states have so far used the census actual enumeration data for redistricting purposes.