As it is appearing with greater frequency, the commonly used term “gerrymandering” is an unusual practice indigenous but not exclusive to these United States. The odd practice of drawing voting districts in a random shape for a particular party’s advantage is named after Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts Governor and the fifth Vice President of the USA under President James Madison. He redrew his own district in the shape of a salamander,
so in 1812, the idea of gerrymandering was born. This is a legal way of redistricting which is used by both political parties in our country. Unfortunately, in most Republican implementations of gerrymandering, the motives are insidiously racist. No representative historically is unwilling to abdicate power, so the Republicans have gerrymandered their districts to maintain sovereignty over a changing demographic that should technically deem them unelectable. With Machiavellian strategizing, the GOP has continued to maintain control of the House of Representatives which is certainly not of, by and for the people.
With the relevancy of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) on trial this week, it is vital more people understand exactly what damage the Roberts Court could inflict on our Civil Rights. The unlikely hero of the Affordable Care Act’s landmark decision, Chief Justice Roberts will play a different role in Shelby County v Holder. He will, once again, prove to be a painful reminder of the Bush Administration that appointed him.
This is a fight that’s been near and dear to Roberts’ heart since he was an attorney for the Ronald Reagan Administration. In 1982, Roberts led the fight against the VRA’s Section 2, which prohibits denial of voting rights “on account of race or color.” In the case of Shelby County, a largely white suburb of Birmingham, the number of instances between 1975 and 2007 where election laws were judged to have discriminated on the basis of race occurred 20 times. But I suppose with the election of President Obama, Roberts and his cohorts are purporting the myth that racism is no longer a problem in the areas which Section 5 was designed to protect.
But how does gerrymandering work to the advantage of Republicans and how is it relevant to this latest SCOTUS battle? In North Carolina, where the two-party House vote was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican, the average simulated delegation was seven Democrats and six Republicans. The actual outcome? Four Democrats, nine Republicans — a split that occurred in less than 1 percent of simulations. If districts were drawn fairly, this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur.
Gerrymandering is a major form of disenfranchisement. In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats, not exactly proportional.
Why would Shelby County object to federal oversight? If they don’t plan on reinstating unfair registration requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests and the like, why would it matter if your electoral processes are supervised by the Federal Government? These folks have and always will be proponents of States’ Rights. States’ Rights is code for we are going to allow discriminatory disenfranchisement to proceed unchecked in our jurisdiction and we’d like you all to butt out.
The best example of racially motivated redistricting was evident in the Texas redistricting after the 2010 census. For the first time, the Republican state is populated by a majority of minority residents. However, the final tally redrew Texas to now have 25 congressional districts that lean Republican and 11 that lean Democratic. A representative government is the antithesis of Rick Perry’s racially motivated voting map.
Most of the areas on the map are in the south, but there are a few northern rural areas included, as historically, violations of Section 5 were common. All the evidence we need for determining the necessity of Section 5 was very evident this past election in the voter suppression attempts in Florida and Ohio that were thwarted by federal intervention. The GOP must be stopped because democracy isn’t waiting in line for several hours just to vote. This was a big problem in 2012 where voters in districts heavily favoring minority voters waited as long as nine hours just to cast their ballots.
In a shocking but not uncharacteristic display of racial callousness, extreme right wing Justice Antonin Scalia claimed the Voting Rights Act is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” which explains why he found a landmark law preventing race discrimination in voting to be suspicious. Simply by derogatorily using the term “entitlement,” conservatives show the disdain they have for allowing ALL citizens of any color, creed or gender to exercise simple rights which Americans have fought so hard to attain.
This plan may very well backfire on Republicans where Teaparty hard liners dominate the party’s agenda and prevent any candidate with sane and moderate views to win on a national scale. A recent example is Richard Mourdock of Indiana who was the Teaparty’s choice to replace Senator Dick Lugar. However, his insane fundamentalist opinions on rape allowed Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, to win in a Republican-dominated district. By gerrymandering themselves into an ultra-far right platform while the rest of society at large seems to be evolving towards a Progressive agenda, they will eventually redistrict themselves into obsolescence. If SCOTUS acts responsibly and rules against Shelby County, Alabama, it may help drive another nail into the GOP coffin. If the Court decides in favor of a racist, regressive Voting Rights Act violation, things will get very messy for both sides. Those who fought bravely to protect the sacred right of voting (which is not an entitlement), like Representative John Lewis, will not back down from this fight. Whether the GOP likes it or not, progress can not be stopped entirely, but they sure as hell can slow it down which seems to be their only advantage in a battle they are destined to lose.