TOPICS > Politics

Back to the Drawing Board on Redistricting

June 13, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The court struck down the congressional redistricting plans of Texas and North Carolina. At issue was whether race was the predominant factor in determining the boundaries of the district. We begin with a background report from Kwame Holman.

KWAME HOLMAN: Nearly all the blacks and Hispanics who were first elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 came from congressional districts specifically drawn to include a majority of minority voters. The districts were drawn as a way of complying with changes in the Voting Rights Act.

LANI GUINIER, University of Pennsylvania: 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 state seat.

KWAME HOLMAN: But court challenges to the district sprung up almost immediately throughout the South, where most of the new majority minority districts are located. In North Carolina, Duke University law professor Robinson Everett filed a suit claiming majority minority districts deprive white voters of their constitutional right.

ROBINSON EVERETT, Duke University: It was a use of racial classifications in a way that tended to divide the North Carolina population into differential racial blocks. And that really offended us.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last June, the Supreme Court struck down a majority minority district in Georgia represented by Cynthia McKinney. After redrawing its congressional map, Georgia went from three majority black districts to just one. And in today’s five to four ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the two majority black and one majority Hispanic district in Texas, as well as the two majority black districts in North Carolina.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion for the majority, saying the court’s ruling evinces a commitment to eliminate unnecessary and excessive government use and reinforcement of racial stereotypes. But writing the dissenting opinion in the North Carolina case, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “The court’s aggressive supervision of state action designed to accommodate the political concerns of historically disadvantaged minority groups is seriously misguided.” At the White House today, President Clinton said he was disappointed by the High Court’s ruling.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think the affected voters will see that they, they need to work even harder to make sure their voices are heard.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the steps of the Supreme Court, representatives of the NAACP denounced the decision.

ELAINE JONES, NAACP Legal Defense Fund: When you interpret the law in such a way as to exclude us so that we’re not at the table, you remove opportunities to resolve some of our problems.

KWAME HOLMAN: And on Capitol Hill, members representing the affected districts were outraged.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, (D) Texas: I am very somber today, deeply hurt, and confused as to what kind of nation this country intends to be in the 21st century. It is almost as if a dying man or woman had asked for a drink of water, and as they were about to sip on the cup, someone on high said, “Enough.”

KWAME HOLMAN: But because Texas and North Carolina already have held their congressional primaries, it’s unlikely the outlawed districts will be redrawn before the November election.