The Appearance of Equality: Racial Gerrymandering, Redistricting, and the Supreme Court

By Christopher M. Burke | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Assessing Representation

This chapter considers the dimensions of political representation. Take, for example, the measure of fair representation. Some forms of representation are perceived to be equitable or fair, and others are not. This is especially the case in the United States as particular ethnic and racial groups are underrepresented persistently in proportion to their percentage of the population. 1 Thus far, the most effective legal mechanism to ensure equal access to representation of minority groups, after guaranteeing the right to vote, is the majority-minority district. In majority-minority districting, electoral districts are reconfigured so that minority voters comprise a majority of the district and elect a minority candidate. The underlying premise is that members of racial minorities more effectively and legitimately represent minority communities. To some extent, the communal identity of the representative informs and delimits the representative function. Operating on this limited set of premises, proportional representation of ethnic and racial groups becomes the sine qua non of fair representation. However, such a conception may omit important issues of representational practice that bear directly on effective representation even if they are not so easily summed up and measured.

I argue that a consideration of the concept of representation, let alone equal or fair representation, is premature without first undertaking an enumeration of its terms. The nomenclature includes "representative," "governor," "elector," "candidate," and "political agent." These terms have varied meanings and are used in dissimilar fashions by different authors. The meanings of these terms, the building blocks of the concept of representation, are highly contextual. Employing the relatively ambiguous and indeterminate elements of representation, I discuss its various theories. For instance, Hannah Pitkin and Edmund Burke emphasize the behavior of the representative. The discretion of the representative, once democratically authorized, is primary. Burke, Pitkin,

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