August 05, 2003
Redistricting, segregation, and identity politics

A reader with a subscription to TNR sent me a printout of this Peter Beinart article which ties together the recent fights over redistricting and judicial nominees to a new form of identity politics being played by the GOP. I'll quote from the first part:

Around the time of the 1990 census, the GOP forged an unholy alliance with civil rights groups: Both would support an interpretation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that forced states to create majority black (or Hispanic) congressional districts wherever possible. The result was more black members of Congress and more Republican members of Congress--since, stripped of their Democratic-leaning black constituents, many white Democratic congressmen fell to Republican challengers. GOP politicos were thrilled, but principled conservatives were disgusted. The Weekly Standard has called the arrangement, which eviscerated political interaction across the color line, "thoroughly repulsive." National Review wrote, "In another day, this was called 'segregation.' It was wrong then, and it's wrong now."

The good news is that, by the time the 2000 census came along, many black leaders agreed. Their motivations were largely partisan--they realized that handing the GOP a congressional majority hadn't exactly enhanced black political power. But the effects were salutary nonetheless. In Georgia, the state's black officials blessed--and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld--a redistricting plan that added racially mixed districts rather than overwhelmingly black and white ones.

But, while the NAACP now favors integrated districts, the White House and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay don't. In fact, in Texas they are pushing perhaps the most radical political segregation plan in recent memory. DeLay's effort to redistrict as many as eight Texas Democratic congressmen out of their jobs has sparked outrage, mostly because it violates the long-standing principle that states redistrict only once per decade. But equally scandalous is the way DeLay's map would produce an avalanche of new GOP seats. His plan would create an additional black majority district, an additional Hispanic majority district, and a sea of bleached-white districts that would likely vote Republican. As University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray told The New York Times, the "plan basically envisions all Democrats elected to Congress being either from Hispanic-majority or African-American majority districts."

Beinart could have quoted Grover Norquist, who basically said this very thing in that infamous article in which he likened bipartisanship to date rape. (Alas, the original Denver Post article appears to be offline, but a Google search of "Grover Norquist date rape" will find you many citations of that particular quote.) The recent Supreme Court decision to which Beinart refers shows how the thinking has changed.

Sam Hirsch, a Washington attorney who has been involved in several redistricting cases, said the ruling will prevent Republicans from "packing" minority voters into districts to "bleach" surrounding areas with white voters to help GOP candidates.

"The Voting Rights Act will no longer serve as a tool for building Republican majorities in state legislatures and Congress," Hirsch said. "It's a good thing for Democrats, and it's a good thing for minorities."

The case seemingly turned politics on its head. Democrats supported a strategy contending that minority voters could be spread out, while Republicans argued that they would be disenfranchised.

The Bush administration had argued in court that Georgia's original districts amounted to an unconstitutional "retrogression" of black voters. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, sought without success to have state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, drop the appeal to the Supreme Court.

The case stems from a rancorous special legislative session on redistricting in 2001. The majority Democrats who drew the state Senate map spread African-American voters into many districts, in hopes that reliably Democratic black voters would help elect Democrats in more districts.

Republicans raged, and the three-judge panel rejected the redrawn map, citing problems with districts in Savannah, Macon and Albany.

In its lawsuit heard by the three judges, the state, including many black leaders, argued that the state had matured on race.

"The state is not the same state it was. It's not the same state that it was in 1965 or in 1975, or even in 1980 or 1990. We've come a great distance," U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an African-American leader of the civil rights movement, argued in court papers.

The Supreme Court majority essentially agreed with the state's contention.

Almost makes you want to let the Texas Lege pass whatever horrible map it's hellbent on drawing just so that the courts can shove it back down their throats. Almost. In any event, you can be sure that this issue will be fought and re-fought many more times before any equilibrium is reached.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 05, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

What is the problem with redistricting in Colorado?

If a state legislature does not complete redistricting by the candidate-filing deadline, the federal courts, since 1962, can intervene (and have intervened) to either draw a plan of their own or implement a districting plan that had been under consideration.
In 2000, the Colorado legislature failed to approve a redistricting plan, so the courts created a redistricting plan, using the 2000 census results.

Current events - The GOP majority in the legislature wanted to create a new plan because they didn’t like the map the court came up with. Even though they won 5 out of 7 races in the election that was held! So in the last session, the GOP majority created a congressional redistricting map that gives them an even greater partisan edge than the 5-2 edge the current redistricting plan gives the GOP!
The recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado said their attempt was in violation of Colorado’s constitution.
GOP officials are talking about getting the Federal courts involved. As someone has said very well “It is useless for the advocates of states' rights to inveigh against the constitutional laws of the United States or against the extension of authority in the fields of necessary control where the states themselves fail in the performance of their duty”

Article V, Section 44 of the Colorado constitution does not prohibit another redistricting. But that section also has no reference to court involvement either but that did happen and that is legal. And the courts ruling was not crafted blindly and was not crafted with a partisan impact. The court ruling left standing the existing plan that was created by a non partisan group!

So the argument rests on ...

How often are you supposed to redistrict?

Following the wishes of either political party, redistricting would take place every time they had a new majority in the legislature!
A legislature could do it every session. While the Supreme Court of the United States said” And we do not mean to intimate that more frequent reapportionment would not be constitutionally permissible or practicably desirable” they also said
“Limitations on the frequency of reapportionment are justified by the need for stability and continuity in the organization of the legislative system”
They provided for limitations on frequency. A party who likes federal involvement in state’s matters could ask them to rule on this matter.
But whose interest is served?

A plan created every session would waste resources and could be subject to court challenge and be rejected every session. That could tie up more resources and tax dollars and jam court calendars.

Cities are allowed to redistrict more than every ten years if they run a new census because of growth or there is an annexation that skews on man one vote rule. That would surely apply to cities with growth but those who want another redistricting at state level have never pushed for that to happen.
States don’t annex, but could run their own census but that cost just to enhance political advantage does not seem a legitimate use of resources.
While legally possible, the legitimacy of redistricting every 2 years in the hope of getting better election results each time or, heaven forbid, to busy the courts such that they miss a civil rights violation, is a negative factor that I would hope the courts would examine for stability and other factors.
And far from being a “temporary” plan, it is the legal plan for 8 years or until the next census.
And for the argument that the court has supplanted the legislature unreasonably, that has been a norm in many places for decades when legislatures have not performed their duty or violate civil rights of citizens.

PROBLEM with partisan redistricting
Some would have you think the actions of the court that affect political parties are a violation of rights assigned ”to the people”. The census for reapportionment predated political parties by 6 years when it was mandated in 1790 to assist redistricting. Does the average person think interests of a political party out weigh the interests of the public?
As a result of the redistricting process, most voters are locked into one-party districts where their only real choice at election time is to ratify the incumbent or heir apparent of the party controlling that district.
Some states have procedures to promote the public interest in this redistricting process, but most do little to prevent the creation of gerrymandered districts.
These are reforms floated that are already used by some states to reduce the partisanship in the process
Make the redistricting process a very public one, with full news media coverage and citizen input.
Take the redistricting process out of the hands of the incumbents and their parties by either instituting clear criteria that mapmakers must follow or by establishing independent, nonpartisan commissions.

Co. Springs, CO

Posted by: nick werle on December 4, 2003 2:29 AM