“The Law is Good”
Barack Obama crushed a major racial barrier in 2008 when he was elected the 44th president of the United States. People across the globe celebrated the Obama victory as a huge political milestone.
“Basking in the spotlight of history on election night as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters, the president-elect acknowledged the magnitude of what had just occurred,” wrote Steven Light, professor of political science and public administration and associate provost for undergraduate education at UND, in the opening chapter of a new book that spotlights the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its effects on minority representation.
President Obama told the cheering crowd in Chicago on election night that “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, tonight is your answer.”
So, some folks argued that we had now reached the “post-Obama era” when the country no longer had to worry about racial equality, especially at the polls.
But not so fast, argues Light in The Law Is Good: The Voting Rights Act, Redistricting, and Black Regime Politics, which reads a lot more like a fascinating social novel full of interesting characters than the political science text it was written as.
“The end of the story has yet to be told,” Light said.
“As it happened,” Light wrote, “Obama’s election corresponded with the timing of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most important and effective civil rights law in U.S. history, and the major reason why, as an African American, Obama could vote, let alone become president.”
That challenge was struck down and the Voting Rights Act has been re-authorized, yet ongoing voting discrimination based on race or ethnicity underscores the continued need for vigilance, Light asserts in his book, recently released by Carolina Academic Press, a publisher of books that address law and policy issues by making them accessible to a general readership.
The Law Is Good addresses three questions of central importance to scholars, students and anyone else interested in the intersections of race and American politics: What is the Voting Rights Act; how does it work; and do we still need it?
Light’s story revolves around an account of the struggle for minority voting rights and representation in the small-town south.
He deftly highlights how electoral success of African-American officials in Tallulah, La., stems from electoral districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Light shows that despite that success, many challenges to equality still remain in towns like Tallulah. And, he notes, the upcoming round of redistricting following the 2010 Census is sure to generate more controversy about the ongoing role of race in America.
Light wrote the book not only as a scholarly work with significant research behind it, but also from his personal experience serving as a civil rights analyst in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Section, where he looked closely at the politics and policy of race-based redistricting.
The Law Is Good is a must-read for understanding the political process of voting in the United States. The book will generate great discussions about the continuing role of race in American political, economic and social life — yesterday, today and tomorrow.
About Steven Light:
Distinguished University of North Dakota political scientist and Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Steven Light is a Yale graduate who received his Ph.D. from Northwestern.
Light, a member of the UND faculty since 2000, is responsible for providing strategic vision and leadership on innovative and high-impact best practices in undergraduate education and also teaches and conducts research on American government, constitutional law and race politics. Before that, he taught at Marquette and Northwestern Universities, and served as a civil rights analyst in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, where he enforced the Voting Rights Act and assessed the effects of redistricting on minority representation.
Light also is co-director of UND’s Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy, the first academic institute in the United States dedicated to understanding the impacts of casinos owned and operated by tribal governments.
The author of more than 40 articles and three books on the subject, Light is widely recognized as a leading national expert on Indian gaming. With frequent collaborator Kathryn R.L. Rand (dean, UND School of Law), Light has testified on Indian gaming regulation and oversight before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and his first book was featured on C-SPAN’s Book TV. He is quoted regularly in such media outlets as the New York Times, public radio’s Marketplace and Bloomberg. Light and Rand blog on Indian gaming at their Web site, Indian Gaming Now.
In addition to tribal gaming, Light has published on best practices in university teaching and learning, including assessment and diversity, the policy effects of court decisions and affirmative action.
Juan Pedraza | Staff Writer