U.S. Supreme Court to Weigh Use of Race in Drawing Political Lines

The Supreme Court last addressed race in October 2013, when protesters rallied in support of affirmative action policies. (Photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)
The Supreme Court last addressed race in October 2013, when protesters rallied in support of affirmative action policies.
(Photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

Democrat Quinton Ross has represented a pretty safe district in the Alabama state Senate since 2002, when 72% of its voting-age population was black. In his last two elections, he ran unopposed.

When it came time to redraw the state’s political lines in 2012, however, Republicans who had won control of the state Legislature made it even safer for Ross, an African American. To replace voters who had moved away, they added 14,806 blacks and 36 whites to District 26, resulting in a 75% black majority.

The Legislature’s artistry had the intended effect throughout the state, racially and politically. It solidified the ability of black voters to elect their favored candidates, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And it made adjacent suburban and rural districts even more white – and more friendly to Republicans.

“The district was already at a point where you had quite a few blacks,” Ross says. “Sometimes, you can just go overboard.”

Now those maps are headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Alabama Democrats and African Americans will make an unusual request: that black voting strength in majority-black districts should be diluted. When it comes to making about three dozen legislative districts hospitable to black candidates, they say, enough is enough.

The case could affect similar disputes over district lines from Texas to Virginia, where Republicans who now control every Southern legislature have used the Voting Rights Act to their political advantage.

In Florida, a state circuit court judge recently ordered lawmakers to redraw one Democratic and one Republican congressional district and make them less exclusionary, to satisfy a state ban on political gerrymandering. In North Carolina, the state Supreme Court is due to hear an appeal by challengers that maps drawn in 2011 pack blacks in the same manner as Alabama.

“Our claim is you just can’t use race this way,” says Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Our districts would be less politically polarized if the map drawers can’t use race.”

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Source: USA Today | Richard Wolf

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