When the Letter Betrays the Spirit examines the wide latitude provided to the executive branch and to the Supreme Court by the text of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Drawing from government enforcement data, legislative history, Supreme Court rulings, the 2006 reauthorization debate on the VRA, and from the 2007 scandal involving the firing of U.S. attorneys under the Bush Administration, the book examines when, why, and how executive and judicial discretion facilitates violation of voting rights. Connecting Johnson to Obama, the book outlines why the executive-centered model of voting rights enforcement relegates Congress to the sidelines, and outlines why a Congress-centered approach provides the best protection against the effects of the law enforcement axiom: the law is neither self-executing nor self-interpreting. The book also examines 2008 survey results about public support for a Jim Crow-era election reform policy that would require voters to read a passage of the Constitution. Describing the civic literacy dimensions of voting rights law from Shaw v. Reno (1993) to Northwest Austin Utility v. Holder (2009), the book highlights the complicated nature of the post-racial rhetoric surrounding the 2008 election cycle and surrounding the upcoming post-2010 census redistricting cycles.
Tyson D King-Meadows —
Tyson D. King-Meadows is assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
King-Meadows, Tyson D. When the letter betrays the spirit: voting rights enforcement and African American participation from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. Lexington Books, 2011. 345p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780739149126; ISBN 9780739149133 pbk; ISBN 9780739149140 e-book. Reviewed in 2012apr CHOICE.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) is considered the crowning achievement of the American civil rights movement in the effort to secure equal rights for African Americans. While impressive gains have been made in terms of black voter registration and election turnout, King-Meadows (Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County) contends that the act's enforcement has been mercurial, contingent upon the political inclinations of whoever is currently president. The reason for this is the subject of this book. The author argues that the structure of the VRA was devised by Lyndon Johnson, placing significant moral and political faith in the president to support voting rights. This faith came at the expense of congressional oversight and legislation that could have limited that discretion, compelling presidents, regardless of who it is, to enforce minority voting rights. Despite several reauthorizations of the VRA since 1965, the Johnson framework remains in place, limiting the effectiveness of the act. The book offers good analysis of the various congressional VRA debates, studies in presidential nonsupport, and observations on where the future of minority voting rights enforcement is headed under Obama and future presidents. Good for collections on civil rights, voting rights, and presidential power.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections. -- D. Schultz, Hamline University