|DRAWING THE LINE|
December 5, 1995
KWAME HOLMAN: Supporters and opponents of majority minority districts converged on the Supreme Court this morning for arguments that could lead to a final ruling on the constitutionality of such districts. Nearly all of the 39 black members of the House of Representatives come from majority black districts. But several of those districts and a handful of others, especially in the South, were drawn after the 1990 Census specifically to have black or Hispanic majorities as a way of complying with changes to the Voting Rights Act.
LANI GUINIER, Law Professor: The assumption was that the way you remedy vote dilution, the way that you empower a minority to elect representatives of its choice is to give that minority its own safe seat.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Lani Guinier is the former Clinton nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Now a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Guinier says minority districts were considered acceptable.
LANI GUINIER, Law Professor: The voting rights bar believed that this conventional remedy which had been affirmed, or at least endorsed by the Justice Department and by the Supreme Court, was the preferred remedy. It turns out that the Supreme Court started to question this remedy.
KWAME HOLMAN: That questioning started three and a half years ago with a legal challenge to North Carolina's majority black 12th Congressional District. The case was brought by Duke University Law Professor Robinson Everett on behalf of a group of white voters.
ROBINSON EVERETT, Plaintiff: This is the wrong use of racial classifications in a way that tended to divide the North Carolina population into different racial blocks, and that really offended them.
KWAME HOLMAN: And in a landmark 1993 ruling, a divided Supreme Court agreed. Writing for a five to four majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said North Carolina's 12th District had such an unusual shape it resembled racial gerrymanders of the past and political apartheid. Attorney Anita Hodgkiss helped defend the concept of North Carolina's two majority minority districts.
ANITA HODGKISS, Lawyer: Black voters consistently and repeatedly vote together as a community. Similarly, white voters consistently vote for white candidates, so when you have that situation, there's no opportunity for black voters' candidate of choice to ever be elected because although they get 90 percent of the support in the black community, they don't get enough white vote to be elected.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, other challenges to majority minority districts sprang up across the South, in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and coming to a head in Georgia last June, when the High Court struck down the majority black 11th Congressional District. Justice O'Connor again ruled, saying that if race was the predominant factor in drawing a district, states must show a compelling governmental interest in the drawing of that district. But attorney Anita Hodgkiss said in the drawing of the North Carolina map, race wasn't the predominant factor, just one of the factors.
ANITA HODGKISS: Quite frankly, there was a lot of incumbency protection going on, and the shape--the lines, the shape of the district is heavily determined by protecting the, the incumbent congressman, keeping Democrats in the right place and keeping Republicans in the right place.
KWAME HOLMAN: That was just one of the arguments attorneys for the state of North Carolina used today as they returned to the Supreme Court for another hearing, having completed a court- ordered review of its map-making guidelines. Mel Watt represents the district in question.
REP. MELVIN WATT, (D) North Carolina: Factors such as creating a predominantly urban district and a predominantly rural district and factors such as incumbent protection were superimposed on racial issues so that all of those factors are important in this case, and I don't think race predominates at all.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the Court heard new challenges to three majority minority districts in Texas.
EDWARD BLUM, Lawyer: You cannot use race as a tool to either empower or disempower incumbent politicians. The Constitution of the United States, the 14th Amendment will not allow Irish, Jews, Catholics, Vietnamese, blacks, Hispanics, to be identified by race and then to be treated differently because a bunch of political elitists need those voters of that specific category to protect their ongoing interests.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the challenged districts this Spring.