High court gets redistricting case
WASHINGTON — The explosive issue of racial segregation returns to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 60 years after justices declared separate schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional.
This time, it’s all about politics. At issue is the redrawing of political districts that has contributed to an emerging phenomenon in the South: To get elected, you better be a black Democrat or a white Republican.
The court will be asked by black and Democratic Alabama residents to strike down the state’s legislative maps drawn by Republicans. They claim the maps pack too many black voters into the districts of black legislators to make surrounding districts more hospitable to the GOP.
For an object lesson in such racial-political purity, the justices need only look at the congressional results from Election Day in the Deep South, stretching from South Carolina to Louisiana. Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, the last white Democrat in the House from any of those five states, lost re-election after his district was redrawn. Now every Democrat is black, and every Republican is white.
Much of the change in congressional and legislative demographics has had more to do with where voters chose to live and which party they embraced. Until 1964, every congressional seat in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana was held by a Democrat. Next year, there will be at least 28 white Republicans and eight black Democrats.
Redistricting, under Democrats and Republicans, has contributed to the trend. To establish “majority-minority” districts that comply with the Voting Rights Act, map-drawers have consolidated black voters, which has a “bleaching” effect on other districts. Over the years, many white Democrats have switched parties, retired or lost re-election as a result.
Georgia is a case in point. Four of the 14 districts have black populations ranging from 51 percent to 57 percent. The other 10 districts — since 2010, all held by Republicans — are less than 35 percent black.
“If black voters were not concentrated into those four districts, Barrow would never have been vulnerable,” says David Bositis, an expert on racial voting patterns.