Republican lawmakers who are redrawing state political lines are adopting a “colorblind” redistribution strategy aimed at inoculating cards against Democratic lawsuits that claim they dilute minority voting power.
The strategy, already used in Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and Arkansas, aims to protect Republican cards from lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by drawing lines using partisan voting data and ignoring racial data.
Republicans argue that the increase in recent years in the number of black members of the United States House representing majority white districts means that the racially polarized vote is on the decline and therefore districts should no longer be drawn with considerations. racial. This move sets up probable legal fights and a potential pivot point in how district lines are drawn.
“We are telling the Republicans responsible for the redistricting that the decision whether or not to use racial demographics must be made state by state,” said Jason Torchinsky, senior advisor and general counsel for the National Republican Redistricting Trust. , a group that helps coordinate GOP redistribution efforts. “But if such an analysis is not required by voting rights law, lawmakers should not use race data to draw their boundaries, otherwise it exposes them to a Fourteenth Amendment challenge.”
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GOP state lawmakers have done just that in several states over the past two weeks. In Texas, State Senator Joan Huffman (right), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Redistribution, said the proposed map passed last week was “drawn in the dark, and then later we have verified that existing Opportunity Districts were protected, and we saw that they were.
GOP lawmakers who draw North Carolina’s 14 congressional districts decided to ignore race statistics when drawing the maps. In Ohio, Republicans drawing the state’s House and Senate districts asked their lawyers to draw maps ignoring racial data, then later said they met the rights law. to vote.
During the debate on the four congressional districts proposed by Arkansas, State Senator Jason Rapert (R), chairman of the relevant committee on redistribution, said that GOP leaders and staff “have made our better not to have a “race” discussion. “I didn’t draw any numbers from the racial statistics,” he said.
Upcoming legal battles
Republican strategy endangers one of the Democrats’ most powerful weapons against Republican gerrymandering: the Voting Rights Act.
Party and civil rights groups frequently sue GOP states using the law. The lawsuits urge judges to redraw the lines to increase the voting power of minorities by unpacking black residents of inner-city neighborhoods and distributing those voters to neighborhoods.
Democrats can now prosecute at their peril, said Guy-Uriel E. Charles, a professor at Harvard Law School. The conservative U.S. Supreme Court has reduced the power of the Voting Rights Act, and in future litigation, it could support the Republican argument, rendering federal law virtually useless in challenging racial gerrymandering.
“Once Republicans have confirmation from the Supreme Court that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is only violated when there is intentional use of race to violate the voting power of voters in color, then you are home free, “he said.
Democrats argue that this GOP strategy cannot work because lawmakers always bring their knowledge of state demographics to the map-making process, even if race data is not used in slicing software.
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“First, let’s dispel the idea that lawmakers don’t understand the demographics of communities across their state, which they claim to represent,” Marina Jenkins, director of litigation and policy, at the National Redistribution Action Fund aligned with the Democratic Party. “But even if you were to accept the premise that ‘turning off’ certain data during the official mapping process makes map designers suddenly blind to these realities, you can’t escape the fact that the end result of a strategy so called “color blind” has been the division of communities of color and, in turn, the dilution of their voices in our democracy. “
“The existence of a racially polarized vote is less and less common, as white voters in cities and suburbs increasingly show their willingness to support minority candidates,” Torchinsky said. “Often the vote is not racialized, it is just partisan. ”
But to fight the GOP, Democrats must sue in a federal court system that is increasingly hostile to voting rights law, Charles said.
Torchinsky said that racially polarized voting “has become less and less common as white urban and suburban voters” vote more often for minority candidates, and that often “the vote is not racialized, it is simply partisan “.
Litigation could give the Supreme Court the ability to rule that racial data should not be considered unless there is evidence of racially polarized voting behavior by whites, Charles said, which would be the “death knell for article 2 of the law on voting rights”.
“The real decision is to say to the plaintiffs, ‘Go ahead and sue us,'” said Charles. “They bet a group is going to do it, and there’s a 50/50 chance the Conservatives are right.”