Daniel Ortiz

Voting Rights and the 1971 Virginia Constitution

Journal of Law and Politics
2022 Spring

UVA Law Faculty Affiliations


To begin to understand voting rights under the 1971 Constitution, one must first understand the document it was replacing. This article thus begins by laying out how the 1902 Constitution openly and harshly suppressed voting rights and permitted further suppression through sub-constitutional means. It then describes the durability of those tools of suppression. Some sunsetted after only two years, once they had grandfathered in many whites who otherwise would have been disenfranchised under the strict requirements that fell into place in 1904. Others persisted. Some of the most obviously unfair and humiliating were gradually abolished by court decree. Other provisions lived on until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 suppressed them. One other lives on still-the courts and Congress permit it-and was the recent focus of dispute between Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Republican leaders of the General Assembly. Ultimately, one must make one's own judgment about the 1971 Constitution's position on voting rights. On the one hand, it threw out many of the racially disenfranchising devices its predecessor had openly embraced. On the other, it largely had no choice. Federal law required it to do so. The 1971 Constitution also maintained the one disenfranchising tool that federal law allowed it to keep, and it made clear that the legislature could later readopt another that federal law appeared to only temporarily suspend.


Daniel R. Ortiz, Voting Rights and the 1971 Virginia Constitution, 37 Journal of Law and Politics, 155 (2022).

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