The state Legislature embarks this morning on what might – or what might not be – the penultimate day of the redistricting session.
We’re hearing something about a surprise at this morning’s 9 a.m. meeting of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, which is scheduled to take up the state’s new congressional districts.
In the meantime, you’ll hear plenty of speeches today, from Democrats and Republicans, about the Voting Rights Act. Don’t think of them as mere bombast – though in some cases, you’d be exactly right. Think of them as precursors to what will be said in federal court.
The issue: Are white Democrats a protected class under the Voting Rights Act – if they are the choice of a substantial number of African-American voters?
Throughout this August session, the arguments have been crafted in large part by two House lawyers – Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, and Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.
Their arguments are worth some study.
Over the Aug. 20 weekend, Lindsey sent a note to his constituents, defending the GOP-controlled Legislature against Democratic charges of flouting VRA standards. In part:
The redistricting plan passed by the Georgia House on August 18, 2011, was created in accordance with guidelines issued by President Obama’s Justice Department and creates 49 African American “majority-minority” districts, which are the same number that exist at the present time. This will keep us in full compliance with the VRA. In addition, we will have for the first time a Hispanic Majority Minority district….
What legal rationale has the Democratic Party tried to use to justify its proposal and attack the plan passed by the Georgia House? It argues that the state of Georgia should move away from protecting “majority minority” districts and instead create more “cross-over districts” in order to comply with the VRA.
A “cross-over district” is a somewhat nebulous term defined as a district in which minority voters make up less than a majority of the voting-age population, but the minority population is potentially large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from majority voters who cross over to support the minority’s preferred candidate.
How you prove this has occurred, however, is not clear and that is why such districts have been rejected as a legitimate barometer under the VRA both statutorily and in court decisions.
In the U.S. Supreme Court decision Ashcroft v. Georgia (2003), Justice O’Connor allowed using such districts in analyzing compliance under section 5 of the VRA, but did not mandate their consideration in drawing new districts…..
The Supreme Court returned to the issue of “cross-over districts” in the case of Bartlett v. Strickland (2009). This time the court looked at whether it could consider such districts when considering possible violations under Section 2 of the VRA. Justice Kennedy in Bartlett decided against expanding consideration under the act to include such districts. He reasoned that to do so “would require courts to make complex political predictions and tie them to race-based assumptions.”
Last night, House Democrats released their answer to Lindsey. The complete text can be found here. But it includes this:
Mr. Lindsey makes fallacious contentions regarding the VRA right away, stating that the House of Representatives redistricting plan that passed the General Assembly created 49 majority-minority districts “which are the same number that exist at the present time.” Republicans have used an erroneous standard to calculate whether a district qualifies as majority-minority, looking at whether African-Americans are 50% of the population instead of 50% of the voting age population as the law requires.
The drafters also padded the numbers of black districts by including in their calculus not only persons who identify as black, but an additional segment of the population that is “any part black.” When examining the current district lines through the lens of the 2010 Census data and calculating how many House districts have a 50% or more black voting age population, the number is only 41 districts. Even if using the more inclusive “any part black” standard, the number is 44 districts — not 49.
To get to 49 districts under the newly-passed plan, Republicans pack black residents into a small number of districts at the expense of districts where blacks constituted a substantial portion, though not a majority, of the citizens of voting age. These districts, where the proportion of African-Americans of voting age population is large enough for that group to elect the candidate of its choice with “crossover” voting from a portion of the white population are referred to as “crossover districts” by the Supreme Court.
Georgia could have used these integrated crossover districts to demonstrate its compliance with the VRA’s requirements. See Bartlett, 556 U.S. at 12-13. Instead, they chose to destroy those districts and draw additional majority-minority districts based solely on racial classifications, claiming that the VRA “requires” them to create majority-minority districts where any may be found. This too is specious. The VRA does not require the maintenance of all currently existing majority-minority districts; nor does it require the maximization of majority-minority districts. Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U.S. 1, 14-15 (2009); Johnson v. DeGrandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1017 (1994).
The reason for the refusal to utilize crossover districts in complying with the mandates of the VRA is simple. Republicans prefer to target crossover districts, which assist them in meeting their goals of eliminating white Democrats and packing minority voters into fewer districts than necessary in order to create enough Republican-leaning districts to create a super-majority. Holding a super-majority in the General Assembly means the Republican Party could pass any and all legislation, including constitutional amendments, without a single Democratic vote and ensures that Georgia is entirely a one-party rule State.
That, in a large nutshell, is the theme of the 2011 redistricting session.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will make another fund-raising swing through Georgia on Sept. 19. No details available yet. His wife, Ann Romney, will be in Buckhead on Wednesday for a private $250-a-head, lunch-time fundraiser.
The AJC’s Politifact Georgia today takes up a statement by the aforementioned House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, a Mitt Romney supporter, who said this about his presidential candidate: “As governor, [Romney] balanced the budget without raising taxes and created jobs. He has the experience in both the private and public sectors to get Americans back to work.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider