Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Justices Review Redistricting Again High Court Seems Dubious of Drawing Boundaries with Race in Mind

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Justices Review Redistricting Again High Court Seems Dubious of Drawing Boundaries with Race in Mind

Article excerpt

THE POLITICS of running for Congress in Georgia and for a school board in Louisiana provided the backdrop Monday for the Supreme Court to consider race as a factor in redrawing election districts.

In separate argument sessions, the court appeared wary of redistricting efforts aimed at maximizing black candidates' success.

In the Georgia case, the Justice Department and black voters are asking the justices to strike down a congressional map that includes one majority-black district so that a plan with two such districts can be substituted. In the Louisiana case, a school board redistricting plan that includes no majority-black districts is under attack. Rulings, expected by July, may clarify just how far the justices will let legislators and local officials nationwide go to preserve or enhance the voting clout of racial and ethnic minorities. In a series of decisions since 1993, the Supreme Court has frowned on such efforts, ruling that drawing districts mainly to boost minority voting power almost always amounts to unlawful gerrymandering. At one point Monday, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sardonically noted that a Justice Department effort to refashion Georgia's 11-district congressional map to provide two majority-black districts "just so h appens" to split counties "along white-black lines." A lower court opted instead for a plan with one majority-black district. When Justice Department lawyer Seth Waxman said the court-drawn plan failed to respect the Georgia Legislature's desire for two majority-black congressional districts, several justices sounded dubious. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that the three-judge federal court in Georgia concluded that the Legislature had drawn such a plan only as a "result of Justice Department coercion." At the federal government's urging after the 1990 census, Georgia wrote a redistricting plan with three majority-black districts. But the Supreme Court struck that plan down last year. A. Lee Parks, representing a group of white voters who support the latest court-imposed plan, noted that two black incumbents forced to seek re-election in majority-white districts were winners in last month's elections. …

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