Map­ping mi­nor­ity vic­to­ries: Jus­tices limit reach of vot­ing act

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY AU­DREY HUD­SON

Race should not be con­sid­ered when re­draw­ing elec­tion dis­tricts if the mi­nori­ties in those dis­tricts make up less than 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, the Supreme Court ruled March 9 in lim­it­ing the scope of the Vot­ing Rights Act.

The act, which al­lows vot­ing dis­tricts to be cre­ated in such a way that helps mi­nori­ties elect their pre­ferred candidates, can only ap­ply to dis­tricts in which mi­nori­ties make up at least 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Jus­tice An­thony M. Kennedy wrote in the de­ci­sion that the fed­eral law does not re­quire state leg­is­la­tures to cre­ate “cross­over” dis­tricts, a com­bi­na­tion of ma­jor­ity white vot­ers who might side with a smaller mi­nor­ity of vot­ers to elect black candidates.

The 5-4 de­ci­sion by the court against the North Carolina leg­is­la­ture said the state should have abided by its own laws that for­bid di­vid­ing coun­ties when it re­drew part of Pen­der County into the 18th district. North Carolina main­tained that it cre­ated the cross­over district af­ter the 2000 cen­sus to sat­isfy a mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion of 39 per­cent. While not 50 per­cent, it was enough for the black vot­ers of the county to de­ter­mine the out­come of elec­tions, the state said.

“The leg­is­la­tors’ ra­tio­nale was that split­ting Pen­der County gave African-Amer­i­can vot­ers the po­ten­tial to join with ma­jor­ity vot­ers to elect the mi­nor­ity group’s can­di­date of choice, while leav­ing Pen­der County whole would have vi­o­lated Sec­tion 2 of the Vot­ing Rights Act,” said the de­ci­sion, which in­cluded Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. and Jus­tice Sa­muel A. Al­ito Jr.

Sec­tion 2 of the Vot­ing Rights Act passed in 1965 pre­vents states from di­lut­ing mi­nor­ity votes through re­dis­trict­ing, and the rul­ing now sets a per­cent­age of mi­nor­ity vot­ers present that would trig­ger this switch. The rul­ing said the law does not re­quire cross­over dis­tricts as North Carolina main­tained, but that it “leaves room” for states to cre­ate such a district.

“Some com­men­ta­tors sug­gest that racially po­lar­ized vot­ing is wan­ing — as ev­i­denced by, for ex­am­ple, the elec­tion of mi­nor­ity candidates where a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers are white,” Jus­tice Kennedy wrote.

“Still, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and racially po­lar­ized vot­ing are not an­cient his­tory. Much re­mains to be done to en­sure that cit­i­zens of all races have equal op­por­tu­nity to share and par­tic­i­pate in our demo­cratic pro­cesses and tra­di­tion, and 2 must be in­ter­preted to en­sure that con­tin­ued progress,” Jus­tice Kennedy wrote.

“It would be an irony, how­ever, if 2 were in­ter­preted to en­trench racial dif­fer­ences by ex­pand­ing a ‘statue meant to has­ten the wan­ing of racism in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.’ Cross­over dis­tricts are, by def­i­ni­tion, the re­sult of white vot­ers join­ing forces with mi­nor­ity vot­ers to elect their pre­ferred can­di­date. The Vot­ing Rights Act was passed to foster this co­op­er­a­tion. We de­cline now to ex­pand the reaches of 2 to re­quire, by force of law, the vol­un­tary co­op­er­a­tion our so­ci­ety has achieved,” Jus­tice Kennedy wrote.

Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg along with Jus­tices David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer said in their dis­sent that the rul­ing cre­ates an “ar­bi­trary thresh­old” that will dis­cour­age the cre­ation of cross­over dis­tricts.

The jus­tices said the de­ci­sion will pres­sure state law­mak­ers to “pack black vot­ers into ad­di­tional ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity dis­tricts, con­tract­ing the num­ber of dis­tricts where racial mi­nori­ties are hav­ing suc­cess in tran­scend­ing racial di­vi­sions in se­cur­ing their pre­ferred rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion as “a se­ri­ous blow to the progress of the civil rights move­ment through its cramped read­ing of the his­toric Vot­ing Rights Act.”

“Congress in­tended with the Vot­ing Rights Act to en­able racial mi­nori­ties to par­tic­i­pate in the po­lit­i­cal life of our democ­racy,” Mr. Leahy said.

In­stead, the rul­ing will also re­duce the num­ber of dis­tricts where mi­nori­ties can get elected, Mr. Leahy said.

“As Congress reaf­firmed in its re­cent nearly unan­i­mous reau­tho­riza­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act, this land­mark law is meant to con­tinue the his­toric ex­pan­sion of in­clu­sion and open­ness in our democ­racy. The Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to­day is a step in the wrong di­rec­tion,” Mr. Leahy said.

“Through­out its his­tory, the United States has made sig­nif­i­cant strides to­ward a more in­clu­sive democ­racy, amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion and pass­ing civil rights laws to en­sure that all Amer­i­cans en­joy equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law and the abil­ity to fairly elect their own rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to­day threat­ens to un­der­mine those goals,” Mr. Leahy said.

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