How Racial Gerrymandering Deprives Black People of Political Power

Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court expanded the meaning of one of the most important civil rights laws in U.S. history — the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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The Consequences of Diluting The Vote

Among other things, the court prohibited a then-common practice among some states of spreading minorities across voting districts, leaving them too few in number in any given district to elect their preferred candidates. The practice became known as “racial gerrymandering.”

The court’s solution required that states create majority-minority districts — districts in which the majority of the voting-age population belonged to a single minority. With voting that occurred largely along racial lines, these districts allowed minority voters to elect their candidates of choice.

But a fascinating development occurred in the years since. These districts, rather than giving African Americans more political power, might have actually started to deprive them of it. Majority-minority districts, by concentrating the minority vote in certain districts, have the unintended consequence of diluting their influence elsewhere. Experts say some Republican legislatures have capitalized on this new reality, redistricting in their political favor under the guise of majority-minority districts.

POLITICAL PROCESS – Electoral District Manipulation
In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander; however, that word can also refer to the process. The term gerrymandering has negative connotations.

In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities, known as “majority-minority districts”. Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents.

The United States, among the first with an elected representative government, eventually named the practice. Incidents precedes the 1789 election of the First U.S. Congress. In 1788, Patrick Henry and his Anti-Federalist allies were in control of the Virginia House of Delegates. They drew the boundaries of Virginia’s 5th congressional district in an unsuccessful attempt to keep James Madison out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Typically the goal in [packing minorities into a district] is not to reduce minority representation in the adjacent districts; it’s to reduce Democrats’ representation in those districts,” said Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. “They’ve been arguably using the racial demographics as a way to enact a Republican gerrymander.”

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