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The Democratic-heavy Congressional Black Caucus is looking like one of the casualties of that party’s war on gerrymandering. In Michigan, a coalition of current and former Detroit lawmakers is planning to sue the state’s redistricting commission over the new congressional and state legislative maps. The group claims the maps disenfranchise black voters and violate the Voting Rights Act. The Times puts the number of state and local seats at issue at “dozens.”
Michigan’s new maps had been widely praised in the liberal press as the kind of nonpartisan efforts that bring more balance to elections — or, as some see it, that reduce the number of safe Republican seats. To make more Michigan districts competitive, though, the commission distributed urban voters into suburban areas, potentially making it more difficult to elect African-American officials.
The first casualty was Michigan’s only African-American representative in Congress, Brenda Lawrence, a four-term Democrat who announced her retirement rather than contest the newly drawn 12th district. This opened the seat to Representative Rashida Tlaib, currently of the 13th district, which is shifting toward Detroit and away from her Muslim-American base in Dearborn. Ms. Lawrence denies redistricting drove her decision.
In North Carolina, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus was more explicit about the negative impact of redistricting. Congressman G.K. Butterfield announced he would not seek re-election in 2022 specifically because of the less favorable new 1st district map. Mr. Butterfield claims the new lines approved by the state’s Republican-majority legislature are “racially gerrymandered” and will “disadvantage African-American communities all across the first congressional district.”
Others, however, feel that the real concern among African-American lawmakers is that there is too little racial gerrymandering. The Michigan commission reduced the number of majority-black districts to zero while claiming that “unpacking” black voters into multiple districts gives them more opportunities. Adam Hollier, a Detroit-area state senator, contends that this is misguided.
Mr. Hollier has said that the “goal of creating partisan fairness cannot so negatively impact Black communities as to erase us from the space.” Redistricting proposals in Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas are facing similar criticism of diluting black and minority representation. Even liberal California, which for the first time ever is surrendering a seat in Congress, may lose a black member as a redistricted congresswoman, Karen Bass, chose instead to run for mayor of Los Angeles.
“Unpacking” minority voters reverses a 30-year trend. The racial districting issue emerged in the 1990s, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was freshly interpreted to mean that redistricting criteria like compactness and contiguity could be thrown out in the effort to guarantee sending minority representatives to Congress.
The result was 13 bizarrely shaped districts nationwide that unified widely separated groups of black voters who then sent 13 new black representatives to Washington. Racial redistricting, though, diluted Democratic votes in adjoining districts, which sent an additional 10 Republicans to Congress and contributed to the GOP taking control of the House in 1994. This dynamic was Gerrymandering 101: packing one party’s voters into safe districts to make the rest of the state more competitive.
A series of court challenges reduced the ability of states explicitly to emphasize race in redistricting. In Shaw v. Reno in 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that while the North Carolina districts were “bizarre” and bore “an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid,” majority-minority districts could be formed if they met a strict scrutiny test.
Now, Democrats seeking to challenge Republican-friendly district maps are facing the uncomfortable truth that aggregating minority voters who habitually vote Democratic necessarily gives an edge to Republicans elsewhere. The new maps in Michigan, North Carolina, and other states suggest that more racially balanced and competitive districts may mean difficult days ahead for the Congressional Black Caucus as the party decides that pursuing power is more important than promoting diversity.
Image: Signs direct voters into a polling station in Durham, North Carolina, November 3, 2020. Reuters/Jonathan Drake/File Photo
This content was originally published here.