4.23.2003

 
One of my classes this semester deals substantially with the Supreme Court’s statutory interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation passed by Congress in 1965 (and subsequently renewed with minor variations in 1970, 1975 and 1982) to finally give effect to the intentions of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In the last few weeks, we have given substantially consideration to the effect redistricting has on minority voting strength and whether certain redistricting measures passed by the effected states violated the provisions of the legislation.

I have a lot of contentions with the jurisprudence the Court has handed down interpreting the Voting Rights Act, but for the most part, I can at least understand the justifications of the Court’s majority, concurring and dissenting opinions. With regard to redistricting, however, I simply fail to understand how people come to certain opinions.

One section of the legislation essentially requires the states effecting changes to receive the government’s consent to those changes. In some decisions, the Attorney General or the Court has rejected plans that do not essentially allow minorities control over a voting district or more than one. The precedent of these decisions has since led the Court to divide on 5-4 grounds about whether states draw enough draw district ensuring minority representation, with the split happening clearly among justices appointed by presidents of different political parties. Since the conservative block currently holds the extra vote on the Court, nearly every modern decision has rejected the “max-black” approach to districting that the ACLU designed in the 80s and 90s.

Generally, parties continue attempting to challenge potential district lines based on the fact that the state legislature draws them so erratically they their only purpose can be to create minority-empowered districts ensuring minority representation or by parties claiming that the state legislatures did not draw lines maximizing the potential minority representation and therefore violating the purposes of the Voting Rights Act and the 15th Amendment.

I’m not cold hearted, and I do not think of myself as a racist, but I have a real problem with the idea that we have to create districts minorities should win, and I have an even harder time swallowing the argument that states should draw curious district lines just to impact the results at the ballot box.

I know minority representation remains a serious problem, and I think myself fully aware of the long history of voting discrimination the southern states inflicted on minority citizens. I also do not seek to criticize the Voting Rights Act or the broad interpretations of the Act the Court handed down in the two decades following its passage. I concede that the Act seeks to ensure that minority voters can have an equal chance to elect representatives of their choice and that the courts should construe the statute to effectuate this intention.

But at some point, I think we must draw a line, for if the Act had the purpose of trying to create a colorblind approach to voting (and I may misunderstand the Act’s purpose by stating this and allowing my idealist thoughts come through), then I have a really hard time accepting that racial gerrymandering, either to enhance or dilute minority voting power, holds the answer. Creating geometrically unsound districts just to promote minority congressmen seems to me directly in contradiction to the democratic ideals underlying this country (which I fully recognized this country has never actually realized, or perhaps even come close to realizing).

I like the idea of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians having representatives of their own race or culture. Certainly they have fought valiantly to achieve the wins they have made, and I respect very highly the courage of their political leaders and people for the steps made. However, not to try and sound stupid, but I think it bears reminding why we call minorities “minorities.”

In a democratic society, minorities do not win elections. The word “minority” necessarily implicates that. With that in mind, I simply have a hard time accepting that we should draw districts that turn minorities into majorities unless those districts have natural lines and the minority citizens have a natural majority in a cohesive and natural shape. While I agree that this nation's best way to cure the evils targeted in the Voting Rights Act may rest in remedial measures, I simply have a hard time swallowing 118-sided districts that have 180-mile long borders as the way to try and reach the goals of the 15th Amendment.

I understand, however, that my thought process no more makes a solution than racial gerrymandering. I’m not naïve to the fact that people reprehensibly vote in a polarized manner along racial lines. What really needs to happen is white people stop seeing candidates as black and blacks stop seeing people as whites. I would prefer them simply seeing party lines or people whose opinions line up or do not line up like that.

I have no problem voting for a black woman from Alabama if her politics more closely align with mine than her competitor’s. Unfortunately, racism runs deeper than logic in this country, and sadly, many people could never vote for a candidate because they have white skin or black skin or have breasts. And sadly, that’s not the type of problem Congress can try to legislate away.

I say give us an all black Congress if they represent my interests. I don’t care. Just please tell me they have won elections in districts that look somewhat like squares, rectangles or circles.

Oh, and just for the record, I voted for Gore in 2000. That probably gives me no more credibility in your eyes than I had before, but I just thought I would throw something in there to make you think twice about the statements above.