Voting Rights and Redistricting in the United States

Voting Rights and Redistricting in the United States

Voting Rights and Redistricting in the United States

Voting Rights and Redistricting in the United States

Synopsis

This up-to-date collection of essays addresses key elements of the law and politics of voting rights: the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, the impact of the Voting Rights Act, and the opportunities for enhanced minority representation posed by alternative electoral systems.

Excerpt

Controversies surrounding voting rights in the United States have followed strange and sometimes contradictory paths. This is perhaps best manifested by the irony surrounding the current state of voting rights litigation and jurisprudence. Almost 40 years ago, in Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960)--a decision roundly praised by voting scholars--the Supreme Court struck down Alabama's redrawing of the boundary of Tuskegee in an attempt to disenfranchise black residents. However, since 1993, when the Court stated in Shaw v. Reno that bizarrely drawn black majority districts are subject to constitutional scrutiny, criticism of the Court's reasoning has abounded.

At the heart of this contradiction and the controversies that currently surround issues of voting rights and fair representation is a tension between two key principles. On the one hand, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has come to be read by minority rights advocates as requiring the creation of "majority-minority" districts in order to ensure that blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities enumerated in the Act's text are given a fair opportunity to elect "representatives of their choice." On the other hand, a majority of the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as a barrier against such efforts to gerrymander the political process--regardless of whether the intended beneficiaries are majority or minority groups.

This tension, in turn, is exacerbated by the fact that the remedy of choice in voting rights disputes remains the specially drawn, "majority-minority" single- member legislative district. As long as states are required by the VRA (as interpreted by the Justice Department) to enhance minority representational opportunities, and as long as states choose to do so only by attempting to draw single-member legislative and congressional districts, the current jurisprudential tension will endure, and no redistricting scheme will be beyond the reach of a . . .

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