Live by the sword

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on June 29, 2006

The Supreme Court yesterday let stand the vast majority of the Tom DeLay-engineered gerrymander of Texas. The GOP gerrymander had undone a Democrat gerrymander that resulted in Texas sending a Democrat majority to the House of Representatives in a state where nearly 60 percent of voters voted Republican and every statewide office was held by Republicans.

The ruling will make it that much more difficult for Democrats to regain control of the House come November.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like gerrymanders -- no matter who is doing it. However, it's laughable for Democrats to complain that Republicans aren't playing fair when Democrats didn't play fair when they were in power.

As if to prove that there is no issue that he can't come down on both sides of, new swing Justice Anthony Kennedy split the baby when it cames to Voting Rights Act violations of two districts.

On the Voting Rights Act issues, Kennedy, supported by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, voted to strike down Bonilla's West Texas district because, he wrote, it was drawn to head off mounting political activity by the area's Latino voters just as they were turning against Bonilla and "were poised to elect their candidate of choice."

This "undermined the progress of a racial group that has been subject to significant voting-related discrimination and that was becoming increasingly politically active and cohesive," Kennedy wrote.

But Kennedy, backed this time by Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito, voted to reject a separate voting-rights challenge brought by black voters against the plan's breakup of a racially diverse Dallas area district.

Blacks said the district should have been protected under the Voting Rights Act because they had decisive influence there. African Americans made up 25.7 percent of the population and played a key role in Democratic primaries. Democrat Martin Frost, who is white, represented the district from 1979 to 2004, when he lost his seat.

Kennedy wrote that a three-judge district court panel had reasonably concluded that the district was "controlled" by Anglo Democrats, so its breakup represented no unlawful diminution of black power.

OK, let that sink in for a minute -- and then read this from Abigail Thernstrom in today's Wall Street Journal [subscription required]:

Of more interest to the justices was the claim that, in violation of the Voting Rights Act, Martin Frost's old legislative district had been redrawn; a bunch of Hispanic Democrats had been removed from Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla's district to ensure his re-election; and in South and West Texas where majority-Hispanic districts had been created, one of the districts was far from geographically compact.

Martin Frost, the former dean of the Texas delegation, is a white Democrat. His district (as black Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson testified at the trial) was drawn by whites to elect a white Democrat. Nevertheless, minority plaintiffs argued that this was a district in which black voters could predictably elect the "candidate of their choice," which is how they described Mr. Frost. It was, they said, a black "opportunity-to-elect" district, protected by the Voting Rights Act, even though it was only 25% black and had elected a white congressman. The Supreme Court didn't buy it. The district "was formed for partisan reasons," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. "The fact that African Americans preferred Frost to some others does not . . . make him their candidate of choice."

The court found Rep. Bonilla's district a different story, however. Rep. Bonilla would seem to be unmistakably Hispanic, his name redolent of old Castile -- but "¡No!" the civil rights groups had argued. While (in their view) the white Democrat, Mr. Frost, counted as a "black" representative, Mr. Bonilla cannot speak for Hispanic interests because his party label is "R."

If you're a subscriber, I encourage you to read all of Thernstrom's piece.

The court got this one mostly right. However, I'm getting sick and tired of the default position of the courts, academia and business of assuming racism. There are always going to be racists, but this country has changed a great deal since the '50s and '60s and racism is a lot less prevalent today than it was then.


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June 2006



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