When the Voting Rights Act came up for renewal of its pre-clearance mechanism for the second time in 1975, Congress didn't just update its coverage formula and leave the statute in place. It amended the core provisions of the VRA, in relevant part, by adding provisions protecting "language minorities," including "persons who are ... of Spanish heritage." What did that mean in 1975? That question yields a clear answer upon consideration of the historical context, the text itself (supported by contemporaneous usage), Congress's enacted legislative findings, and the relevant legislative history -- those whose native language is Spanish, a disadvantaged group that is not identical with all Hispanics. But the courts have never applied this clear answer. The population Congress sought to protect through the 1975 amendments still largely suffers from the same problems Congress enacted the 1975 amendments to address. Instead, a misreading of the language of the amendments has yielded irrelevant relief to other groups for generations.
This piece originally ran in The Federalist Society Review, Vol. 22.