NORTH CAROLINA can draw a congressional district that looks like a long, meandering worm. But Louisiana cannot have one that looks like the Mark of Zorro or a beauty contestant's sash.
Both rulings came from panels of federal judges. Both districts were drawn under the Voting Rights Act to give blacks a majority and boost their chances of getting elected.
Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court may have to decide exactly how far states can go in drawing boundaries.
"The Supreme Court has been dodging the bullet for the 30 years the Voting Rights Act has been in existence," said Ed Renwick, director of the Loyola University Institute of Politics in New Orleans. "Now, the court must make a clear-cut decision."
On Monday, a three-judge federal panel in North Carolina ruled that districts can be drawn in weird shapes to favor the election of blacks as a means of correcting past injustices.
But last week in Louisiana, a three-judge federal panel said blacks had enough protection against discrimination. Discarding traditional districting principles to carve out one-race districts simply for the sake of race is contrary to the Constitution, the panel said.
In June 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that state Legislatures may be violating white voters' rights when they create congressional districts designed to give minorities a majority. The justices said that states must protect minority voters but that race cannot be the only factor considered.
Justice Department attorneys maintain that states should draw as many minority districts as possible, and states have been following the department's guidelines.
In some cases, that means states are actually making districts whiter.
"The unusual marriage between blacks and Republicans, who like what is happening, may impact the November elections," Renwick said. "Republicans stand a better chance in the super-white districts created."
The 1993 Supreme Court decision on the North Carolina plan came in a suit complaining that lawmakers ran crazy lines all over the state to create a minority district. …