The Voting Rights Initiative (VRI) at the University of Michigan Law School (UMLS) explores how Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act operates over time. VRI’s 2006 report documented Section 2 claims brought between June 29, 1982, and December 31, 2005 that resulted in one or more decisions published or available on Westlaw or Lexis. A draft of the 2006 report and accompanying database were included in the evidentiary record assembled by Congress when it reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Subsequent judicial rulings addressing the constitutionality of the 2006 reauthorization relied on the report.
In early 2022, we published this website and database documenting Section 2 litigation from June 29, 1982 through December 31, 2021. The database includes judicial decisions that addressed a substantive Section 2 claim during this period and were published or made available on Westlaw or Lexis. The dataset does not include cases that cited or discussed Section 2 independent of a substantive claim. It also omits cases in which the Section 2 claim appeared frivolous and cases in which the merits decision was vacated on appeal.
In contrast to our 2006 report, which examined every opinion issued in a given case, the 2022 database includes only what we have labeled the “final word” ruling. In most lawsuits, the final word decision is the merits decision that determined whether Section 2 was violated. Absent a direct decision on the merits, the final word case is the last published case in the lawsuit that made a substantive determination for or against the plaintiff. Final word opinions can include rulings on a preliminary injunction, evidentiary disputes, judicial approval of a settlement, a remedial order, and attorneys’ fees. In instances where the final word opinion focused on a secondary issue, the contours of the underlying Section 2 claim and the court’s Section 2 analysis were not always clear. Still, these cases, particularly preliminary injunction cases, often included some substantive assessment of Section 2 criteria that researchers documented. Cases in which nothing more than the fact of decision was evident from the opinions were included so long as the opinion appeared to rest at least in part on a substantive Section 2 claim.
The 2022 dataset includes a coded final word opinion for every case appearing in the 2006 report. Because the 2022 dataset focuses on the final word case, while the 2006 report included all substantive rulings in a litigation string, some differences between the two datasets arise. The two approaches yielded few aggregate differences, but in a handful of cases the 2022 dataset reports findings for specific cases that differ from the findings reported in the 2006 report.
Finally, note that because our dataset only examines published opinions or opinions that are available through Westlaw or Lexis, any Section 2 case that did not result in such an opinion is not represented here. Additionally, we have not included cases that are still being litigated. This necessarily means that our dataset undercounts all Section 2 cases, and also undercounts cases brought in the last several years that remain active.
The dataset is current as of December 31, 2021. A PDF version of the information contained on this website is available for download.
The Section 2 cases in our dataset were coded along 50 criteria. Terms and categories that may not be self-evident are defined here. For more information on coding practices or the dataset, see our codebook.
A note on cases, claims, and successful Section 2 challenges: Cases that involved multiple Section 2 claims were coded as a single case. The number of cases containing multiple distinguishable claims was small, and dividing the cases into individual claims threatened to confuse, rather than clarify, the results of the study. In a small number of cases, case-dependent coding leads to odd results: for instance, both LULAC v. Perry and Abbott v. Perez are coded as plaintiff successes even though, in each case, only one of several challenged districts was struck down under Section 2.
Finally, while the VRI team made every effort to code cases consistently and accurately, judicial reasoning, legal opinions, and the underlying fact patterns often defy easy categorization. Please report any errors, or direct any questions, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellen D. Katz (Ralph W. Aigler Professor of Law, UMLS); Elizabeth Jones (UMLS ’17), Kaylie Springer (UMLS ’18), James Coatsworth (UMLS ’18), Anna Hall (UMLS ’19), Micah Telegen (UMLS ’19), Rose Lapp (UMLS ’20), Jacob Muller (UMLS ’20), Mackenzie Walz (UMLS ’20), Brian Remlinger (UMLS ‘21), Andrew Dziedzic (UMLS ‘22), Brooke Simone (UMLS ‘22), and Jordan Schuler (UMLS ‘24).
Helen Marie Berg (UMLS ’18), Dani Bernstein (UMLS ’21), James Brokaw (UMLS ’21), Joseph Condon (UMLS ’20), Kathleen Craddock (UMLS ’18), Andrew Cutillo (UMLS ’20), Ciara Davis (UMLS ’18), Kristin Froehle (UMLS ’19), Claire Grace (UMLS ’21), Joshua Goldman (UMLS ’19), Asma Husain (UMLS ’18), Gabriela Hybel (UMLS ’19), Betsy Johnson (UMLS ’21), Adam Kleven (UMLS ’18), Tommy La Voy (UMLS ’19), Joe Lindblad (UMLS ’21), Antonia Lluberes (UMLS ’21), Amita Maram (UMLS ’21), Seth Mayer (UMLS ’23), Laura Mebert (UMLS ’23), Caleb Nagel (UMLS ’18), Dhruti Patel (UMLS ’20), Bradley Puffenbarger (UMLS ’18), Hannah Rubashkin (UMLS ’19), Matt Thornburg (UMLS ’19), Eli Wachtel (UMLS ’20), Will Walker (UMLS ’21), Becky Wasserman (UMLS ’21), Virginia Weeks (UMLS ’18), and Sam White (UMLS ’21).
Many thanks to Alice Liu (UMLSA ’21), Ewelina Papiez (UMSI ’22), and Smrithi Srinivasan (UMSI ’22) for designing this website, Alex Lee and the Communications staff at the University of Michigan Law School, and Lyle Whitney and the IT staff at the University of Michigan Law School.