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Racial politics and the high court.

America is obsessed with racial fine-tuning. Last spring's interpretation and reinterpretation of Lani Guinier's academic writings showed this. But Guinier's problems grew out of theoretical musings. This fall, the Supreme Court is addressing race-based cases directly affecting Americans.

The cases stem from a 1982 amendment to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Under it, states are forbidden from enacting any voting practice that has the purpose or effect of affording minorities "less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice."

Under that guide, this fall's cases are related to, but not rehashes of, last June's Shaw v. Reno ruling by the High Court. Then, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, author of the majority opinion, attacked new majority-minority districts, saying they "may Balkanize us into competing racial factions."

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) disagreed. CBC Chairman Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said the ruling encouraged litigation aimed at attacking minority attempts to be included in the electoral process.

He was correct. Redistricting has been effective in achieving racially balanced political representation (see chart of blacks elected to Congress from newly created districts). However, three Supreme Court cases question to what extent states can go electorally to redress historical racial bias.

The first case, Holder v. Hall, No.91-201, is stark. in Bleckley County, Ga., the county commissioner controls all executive and legal functions. While, 20% of Bleckley's 10,400 population is black, no blacks have ever been elected commissioner. Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the single-member commission violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the black population's ability to elect representatives of its own choice.

The appeals court proposed that Bleckley should elect five members from the districts. The commissioner appealed, and his brief states that the act "is not intended to insure that numerical minorities win elections" and "electoral success is the measure of equal opportunity to participate."

Dayna Cunningham, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's voting rights project, calls this type of defense an "outrage." She asks how Bleckley County can complain about guaranteeing results when it kept blacks out of the electoral process for decades.

Cunningham points to two other reinterpretations of the act, which occurred in cases brought in Dade County, Fla. In the first case, DeGrandy v. Johnson, No. 92-593, the brief states that Dade has sufficient numbers of politically cohesive blacks and Hispanics to warrant creation of one new state Senate seat for each group. But a federal district court would not authorize the creation of the seats, ruling it would result in one group's political opportunity at the expense of another [whites]. Can a court point out the act's violation and then not provide a solution?

In the related DeGrandy v. Johnson, No. 92-519, the same judges found another violation when Florida drew 9 out of 20 Dade County districts with Hispanic majorities, when the actual Hispanic population was sufficient to create 11 majority districts. Does the Voting Rights Act endorse the view that minority voting strength must be enhanced to its maximum extent possible? The state of Florida does not think so.

Federal judges are facing unexpected demands by minorities for a fair share of electoral power. This means some whites must relinquish their historic overrepresentation. "How are we going to share power in a society that is profoundly divided over issues of race?" asks Cunningham. "Color blindness will never answer the question. It is saying we will just be blind to unfairness."
 In 1992, 12 newly created Southern districts elected
black representatives to Congress.


Sanford Bishop Georgia 2
Corrine Brown Florida 3
Eva Clayton North Carolina 1
James E. Clyburn South Carolina 6
Cleo Fields Louisiana 4
Alcee L. Hastings Florida 23
Earl Hilliard Alabama 7
Eddie Bernice Johnson Texas 30
Cynthia McKinney Georgia 11
Carrie Meek Florida 17
Robert C. Scott Virginia 3
Melvin Watt North Carolina 12

Source: Congressional Black Caucus, Washington, D.C., 1993.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:how U.S. Supreme Court decisions may affect cases involving redistricting and political power in African American communities
Author:McCoy, Frank
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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