Jon Ossoff’s multi-million dollar loss in Georgia’s recent special election has been blamed on a lot of factors besides the lousy candidate. Ossoff himself blamed “unchecked anonymous money.” Pundit Rachel Maddow blamed the weather. DNC chairman Tom Perez blamed gerrymandering, calling Georgia’s sixth congressional “beet red” before adding “That was Newt Gingrich’s old seat, heavily gerrymandered by Georgia.”
Oh, puh-leeze. There are a lot of ridiculously shaped, blatantly skewed districts in this country but Georgia’s sixth is not one of them. Its outline is not particularly remarkable and its demographics “look like America” which is something I thought liberals liked. The district is 71% white, 14% black and 13% Hispanic. Party registration favors the Republicans by nine points which is not insurmountable nor is it prima facie evidence of gerrymandering. The reason that liberal Democrats have been losing this district with regularity is because their policies have so thoroughly alienated the white middle class. To blame Ossoff’s loss on gerrymandering is sour grapes, nothing more.
Gerrymandering, like most things that Democrats complain about, is something that they invented, popularized, and insisted upon for years before deciding that it’s an affront to dignity and civil rights. The very word “gerrymandering” can be traced back to the 19th Century Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry. The Massachusetts legislature drew some truly bizarre state senate districts in an obvious attempt to favor Gerry’s Democratic-Republican Party (who are today called simply Democrats) at the expense of the Federalist opposition. Ever since that time, politicians have been choosing their own voters by drawing lines around people inclined to vote for them.
So there are a lot of good reasons to hate gerrymandering. It wreaks of corruption and it ensures that incumbents don’t actually have to compete. If it were up to me districts would be drawn without regard to their inhabitants. Some districts might turn out bright red and others deep blue but most would be some shade of purple and all would obtain their political character by happenstance.
Like nearly every issue in American politics, gerrymandering also has a racial angle. While gerrymandering isn’t particularly new, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a maze of subsequent case law have made it practically mandatory in states with substantial minority populations. Certain portions of the VRA which have since been struck down as unconstitutional mandated that southern states first submit any changes in election laws, including electoral maps, to the Department of Justice for its approval. In time, the DOJ came to demand that states create “majority-minority” districts—that is, districts in which whites are a minority. This was considered the only way to give minorities a voice.
The DOJ’s directives set a terrible precedent, namely that our elected officials represent races rather than districts and their citizens. This insidious trend amounts to an abandonment of the “one man, one vote” principle in favor of a racial spoils system. It also turns gerrymandering into a positive good–If state legislatures don’t feel like drawing districts that look like shadow puppets the forces of enlightenment will compel them to do exactly that.
Majority-minority districts now exist in most states that aren’t lily white and most of these districts habitually send complete bozos to Washington. Representative Alcee Hastings, for example, probably wouldn’t be able to win election in a non-gerrymandered district because he’s a former federal judge who was impeached and removed for bribery and perjury. But because his Florida district was drawn specifically to elect a minority representative, and because his constituents seem not to care that he’s a corruptocrat, Hastings has a seat in the House of Representatives. Representative Luis Gutierrez, who thinks his job is to represent the illegal alien population in Congress, wouldn’t be in Congress today if his ridiculously-shaped Illinois district weren’t ready-made to elect a far-left Latino. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who thinks that American astronauts planted Old Glory on Mars, would certainly not be in Congress today if the map weren’t rigged in her favor. And so on.
North Carolina butted heads with the federal government in the 1990s over exactly how to stay on the right side of the DOJ’s unconstitutional veto authority. After the 1990 Census, which awarded North Carolina an additional congressional seat, the legislature in Raleigh set about drawing a new electoral map. It submitted its map to the DOJ for its approval as required by the unconstitutional portion of the VRA. The DOJ, which was then headed by ultra-progressive Janet Reno, responded with a mandate to create a second majority-minority district in the state. North Carolina dutifully complied, creating the 12th district which was as ugly as a modern art masterpiece. It’s truly the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen though that’s to be expected when people create districts for the sole purpose of lumping all the black people together.
A few North Carolinians sued appellate state and federal officers in a case called Shaw v. Reno, claiming that the wacky DOJ-approved redistricting plan violated their equal protection rights. Though the results of the case were mixed, the Supreme Court did decide that packing minorities into majority-minority districts is a practice that must pass a strict scrutiny test and cannot be done solely for racial reasons. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote for the majority, said that the bedraggled 12th district “bears an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid.” She’s right about that but it should be remembered that progressive opinion was, in this case at least, on the side of political apartheid.
My how things change. Since Shaw v. Reno, liberals have decided that “packing” minorities into a single district—which used to be the un-racist thing—is now racist. Containing the black vote within one district necessarily creates a slew of conservative white districts around it. Those white guys’ seats are just as safe as the minority congressman’s and they have no incentive to woo minority or liberal voters–and we can’t have that!
What exactly do these race-obsessed agitators want? I only ask because I’m really sick of their incessant whining. I think what they want is to have plenty of blatantly gerrymandered majority-minority districts that are nice and safe for their race and their party but at the same time they want the other districts around the gerrymandered ones to remain competitive. That way black and Hispanic leftists will always have their voice in Congress no matter which way the winds shift but they will also have the opportunity to win additional seats. Anything less is somehow racist.
Clearly they want to have their cake and eat it too. Consider a recent federal court decision that invalidated Texas’ proposed redistricting plan. The map was drawn by a Republican-majority legislature so it was automatically suspect. Two judges, Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia, ruled that gerrymandering cannot be used to reduce the influence of minority voters, whether by “packing” or its opposite, “cracking.”
This is the very definition of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. When minority voters are all grouped together in one district liberals cry foul. When they’re spread out, liberals cry foul. It seems unlikely that two diametrically opposed methods (“packing” and “cracking”) could even achieve the same effect but that’s what liberals want us to believe. Aren’t these people simply attributing nefarious motives to any plan drawn up by their political opposition?
It would seem that the only way to draw districts that neither “pack” nor “crack” is to take the colorblind approach which is fine by me. I’m all for that. But even that may not work because judges are apparently mind-readers and may discern racism if there are too many or too few minorities in any particular district, which there are bound to be. The question remains: what exactly is the correct number and how can we achieve that number without drawing districts based on race which the Supreme Court found constitutionally suspect in Shaw v. Reno?
The other problem with the colorblind approach is that it’s exactly the opposite of what the Department of Justice mandated for decades. It was Bill Clinton’s DOJ, after all, that ordered North Carolina to add another majority-minority district to its map. Even if states stopped packing today, the basic color-conscious outlines imposed by an overbearing federal government would probably remain for years.
I believe that the real reason liberals constantly complain about gerrymandering—and often sue people over it—is not because they have any principled opposition to it. No, they simply want to create bad headlines for the opposition. Every time a Republican-dominated legislature has to defend its electoral map in court, Democrats get to accuse those who drafted it of crypto-racism. Even if the Democrats lose their case, the damage to the Republicans has already been done.
For my part, I would like to see an end to gerrymandering of all kinds, whether based on race, party, or anything else. When it comes to congressional districts, boring shapes suit me just fine. But as long as there are litigators and liberal Democrats around I know that that won’t happen.