Deferring to Political Branches
on Contested Equality Claims
Who Decides the Validity of Contested
Political Equality Measures and Why?
Voters in Missouri pass a law limiting individual campaign contributions to state officials to amounts as low as $100.1 Congress decides to suspend state-imposed literacy tests for voting in state and local elections six years after the Supreme Court holds that such tests, if fairly administered, do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.2 The New York legislature, in order to comply with the U.S. Justice Department's interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and to satisfy demands of its members to protect themselves and gain partisan advantage during the redistricting process, draws majority-minority districts that split a cohesive religious group into two districts.3
At first glance, these three actions have little in common beyond embracing the field of election law. In the first case, voters act through the initiative process to curb the role of money in elections. In the second case, Congress acts to impose a national standard for voter qualifications. In the third case, a state legislature pursues its own self-interested goals in redistricting while complying with federally imposed districting standards.
The common thread running through each action is that political actors have come together—at least arguably—to impose a contested version of political equality. There is (or was, in the case of literacy tests) no consensus or near-consensus that political equality requires very low campaign contribution limits, a ban on literacy tests in voting, or the creation of majority-minority districts.