Blinded by color

Democrats have changed their tune about race-con­scious con­gres­sional dis­tricts

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Be care­ful what you wish for, so the folk wis­dom goes, be­cause you might get it. Democrats, hav­ing learned this les­son the hard way, have set out in Vir­ginia to re­peal them­selves. Not so long ago, Democrats in Vir­ginia de­manded the cre­ation of so-called ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity con­gres­sional and state leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, where the ma­jor­ity of the vot­ers are mem­bers of racial mi­nori­ties. This was not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause that was in the best in­ter­ests of the peo­ple in those dis­tricts, but be­cause such dis­tricts would en­sure the elec­tion of Democrats.

The cre­ation of ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity dis­tricts by states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, un­der pres­sure from the fed­eral Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965, was held to be jus­ti­fied as en­abling racial mi­nori­ties to elect can­di­dates who look like the vot­ers in the district. The Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assem­bly obliged af­ter the 2010 cen­sus, ger­ry­man­der­ing as nec­es­sary to cre­ate dis­tricts where racial mi­nori­ties would be in the ma­jor­ity. But this made neigh­bor­ing con­gres­sional dis­tricts more friendly to Repub­li­cans. The law of un­in­tended con­se­quences, as ex­pe­ri­ence is for­ever teach­ing, is a law im­mune to whim and fash­ion.

Cre­ation of these “ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity” dis­tricts was man­dated by the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 which warned that district lines can­not be drawn in such a man­ner as to “im­prop­erly di­lute mi­nori­ties vot­ing power.” As a re­sult, there are 113 “ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity” dis­tricts, a quar­ter of the na­tion’s 435 House dis­tricts.

Vir­ginia Democrats were back at the U.S. Supreme Court last week to ask the jus­tices to find the map of Vir­ginia’s state House of Del­e­gates un­con­sti­tu­tional, and or­der it to be drawn again in time for the 2017 off-year leg­isla­tive elec­tions. They’re specif­i­cally con­test­ing a dozen leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, in Rich­mond, the Hamp­ton Roads area and along the state’s south­ern bor­der, that lower fed­eral courts have said sat­isfy the re­quire­ments of the Vot­ing Rights Act. Seats in all of these dis­tricts are held by blacks. When the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Gen­eral Assem­bly drew the district lines in 2011 it took no­tice that the dis­tricts were de­signed to pre­serve in­cum­bents. Democrats now want the High Court to de­ter­mine whether race played a role too large in the draw­ing.

The case, Bethune-Hill vs. Vir­ginia State Board of Elec­tions, was ar­gued by lawyers of the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment and by Marc E. Elias, who reg­u­larly lit­i­gates vot­ing-rights law­suits on be­half of the Democrats. He was a lawyer for Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Paul D. Cle­ment, the at­tor­ney for the state of Vir­ginia, told the jus­tices that “the 2011 re­dis­trict­ing of the Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates was a bi­par­ti­san suc­cess story.” Mr. Cle­ment, who was the U.S. solic­i­tor gen­eral in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, noted that the estab­lish­ment of the bound­aries of the new “ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity” dis­tricts was ap­proved by the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus.

The Supreme Court has held that race can’t be the pre­dom­i­nant fac­tor in the draw­ing of elec­toral lines, and that runs against the con­cept of “ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity” dis­tricts.

What the jus­tices could do — though likely won’t — is dis­pense with race-con­scious­ness en­tirely as a fac­tor in the cre­ation of leg­isla­tive dis­tricts. Geog­ra­phy and com­pact­ness, not race, should be the chief con­sid­er­a­tions. Def­er­ence to race in re­dis­trict­ing has be­come, in the words of Jus­tice Sa­muel Al­ito Jr., “an in­vi­ta­tion for lit­i­ga­tion.” That’s good busi­ness for the lawyers, but bad busi­ness for every­body else, both ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.