Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Supreme Court Ruling Will Impact Raced-Based Redistricting

Proponents of drawing congressional and other political boundaries in a way intended to pack minority voters into a district with Democratic-leaning voters to expand a minority group's influence has been dealt a big blow in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in Bartlett v. Strickland. The case hinges on a long-debated voting rights remedy to protect minorities from disenfranchisement, which is contained in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The question decided by the Supreme Court was whether Section 2 requires the creation of a district in an area of a state where a racial minority makes up a large enough bloc to control the outcome of an election, if they can obtain minimal support from non-minority voters. The majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy answered in the negative.

Kennedy determined that Section 2 requires the minority group to comprise at least 50.01 percent of the population of the district, a numerical majority, before a claim can be asserted for dilution of minority voting patterns in a former district's arrangement. In other words, Section 2 does not mandate so-called "crossover districts." To hold otherwise, Kennedy said the courts would be placed “in the untenable position of predicting many political variables and tying them to race-based assumptions.” That, Kennedy said, would raise other "serious constitutional problems."

The Court's decision this week in Bartlett directly affects one of Indiana's congressional districts, the 7th District currently represented by Indiana's only African-American congressman, Andre Carson (D). The Indiana Democratic Party and the Marion County Democratic Party have issued an unwritten edict that the 7th District must be represented by an African-American of the choosing of the Carson/Center Township Democratic political machine. The 7th District is currently comprised of the bulk of Marion County in which the most African-American and Democratic-leaning voters are located. The more Republican, suburban areas of the county have been placed in Dan Burton's 5th District and Steve Buyer's 4th District.

Under the rule that ensures only an African-American member of this inner city political machine may represent the bulk of Marion County voters, non-African-American aspirants are shunned by the Democratic Party. Anyone who challenges the status quo is swiftly punished by any means at the disposal of the political machine. In other words, if you aren't a black Democrat annointed by the machine, you can never aspire to represent the 7th District in Congress. If Democrats control the redistricting process after the 2010 election, they will simply enlarge the district by a sufficient number of voters to achieve reapportionment without risking any serious dilution of the minority bloc.

In the past, Democrats argued that this gerrymandering of the 7th District was necessary to ensure minority representation under the Voting Rights Act. This week's decision changes that entirely. As long as minority voters make up the minority of the population within the 7th District, the political boundaries can be divided up as those drawing them deem appropriate. That would allow, for example, Marion County to be split down the middle from east to west along Meridian Street, or from north to south along I-70, extending two separate congressional districts well into the surrounding Republican-leaning counties. The ACLU, the NAACP and Bill Groth couldn't rush to the courthouse and file a lawsuit claiming a Voting Rights Act violation. If someone other than the Democrats control the redistricting process, meaning the Republicans win control of the Indiana House of Representatives, there is real hope that the corrupt political machine's control of the 7th District could come to an abrupt end after the 2010 elections.


Wilson46201 said...

The Indianapolis Congressional District (whatever the number) has always been drawn to cover the City of Indianapolis - race has never been a factor in its layout. Julia Carson astonished the political world by being in 1996 the first African-American elected from a majority Caucasian district (Blacks were only 28%).

The Indianapolis Congressional District was never crafted or created by the Voting Rights Act. I don't believe the recent SCOTUS decision will affect Indianapolis therefore.

In 2008 a well-funded and competent Caucasian candidate, David Orentlicher, ran in the Democratic primary. He received only 22% of the vote. Voters (not some mythical innercity machine) preferred Black candidates. I've always estimated the Democratic primary voters to be 50-50 Black and white.

A major factor in redistricting is "community of interest". Splitting the City of Indianapolis in half for partisan political purposes for the first time ever would be quite wrong (and obvious). Sadly, it seems extreme gerrymandering is the GOP's only hope of backsliding to a lily-white Congressional delegation from Indiana.

Ghostwriter Judiciary said...

Interesting case, but the real important VRA case is coming this summer when they decide whether Section 5 - which requires DOJ to approve changes to voter laws in southern states - is constitutional.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Julia's ascension to the Andy Jacobs seat was planned in advance, Wilson, and you know that, just as Andre's ascension to the seat upon Julia's death was planned. Ann DeLaney tried to upset the apple cart and opened up an old division between the Center Township machine and the Bayh Democrats. After Julia thoroughly trounced DeLaney in the Democratic primary (in which AA voters are disproportionately represented by the way), the Democratic Party declared a truce with Carson and the Center Township folks and declared it Indiana's official African-American seat.

Lawyer said...

Although I did not vote for Andre Carson in the election, I have been very pleased with his performance. Congressman Carson is the only member of color of Indiana's congressional delegation and if his district is redrawn then something should be done to make certain that our delegation is diverse. A team of all white male congressmen is hardly representative of the voters of Indiana.

I do not like the court's decision. I would hope that if the district is redrawn that a lawyer of Bill Groth's caliber would take on the case. He has proven himself as one of Indiana's most competent, experienced and capable lawers practicing in the area of election law.

artfuggins said...

As a long time Dem party activist, I would strongly disagree with some of your assertions.....the
7th CD was never drawn or mandated by some written or unwritten edict to have a minority representative. AA make up less than 1/3 of the district's population. If you look at past results, you will see that Julia and Andre run well in precincts that are all or almost all White....Both have had appeal in the white community in which I am a member and when you travel the polls on election days, you will see as many white volunteers for Andre as you do AA. Andre is a strong voice for ALL residents of the 7th and I suspect he will be returned to D.C. for as long as he wishes....