Redistricting Essay, Research Paper
In the recent political elections the democrats did not regain the majority of the either house of Congress. However, there were still some important victories that gave them reason to celebrate. In some elections democratic candidates faced more than just a republican opponent. One of these candidates was Congresswomen Cynthia McKinney, a black representative from the eleventh district in Georgia. She had previously been a two time winner in the eleventh district (1992 and 1994), but after a ruling by the supreme court in 1995 the district was broken up and she was forced to run in the newly designed fourth district.
After the 1990 census fifteen newly created districts had a black majority in the United States: McKinney?s district was one of them. But after the 1992 elections a debate arouse if these districts were unconstitutional based on the fact that they were created for racial purposes, and were contrary to equal protection under the law. A specific case in 1995, Miler v. Johnson, declared that this ?racial gerrymandering? was unconstitutional, which forced McKinney into a new district which happened to be a predominately white majority. However, with this in mind, Congresswomen McKinney was still victorious in the November elections. Her victory, like the decisions of the court, raised many questions about future elections and the proper way to go about districting the states.
By moving into the fourth district McKinney?s seat seemed to be very vulnerable. A vast majority of her votes from the last two elections were no gone, and no it seemed as if the question of her race would hurt rather than harm her. But she still won anyway; so how does one explain this? One argument that has been raised it that race is no longer a determining factor in one?s choice for his/her representative. It has been said that voters are more and more crossing racial lines during elections which will have a positive effect for minority candidates. The end effect of this idea is that there is no need to make a firm attempt to get minorities elected because it will happen on its own. Although this idea is a hopeful one, many people feel it is too idealistic. Racism it still too real in this country, and the victory of persons like Cynthia McKinney are the cause of other factors besides voters crossing racial lines.
The other primary idea of the cause of McKinney?s victory is the idea of the power of incumbency. This appears to be a much stronger argument since in mostly every election almost 90% of incumbents win. Running for re-election gives incumbents superior advantages over the challengers, and in McKinney?s case this was no different. She had more money, a better known name, and a voting record in congress which she could show to the constituency. The fact that she is already a representative, even if it is from another district, gives her a better chance of going back to congress.
These events are sure to have a lasting effect on how districting will be carried out in the future. The primary thought is that in districting states one must look beyond race, which is what the courts seemed to imply in their decisions, but it seems that race it too real an issue when one is voting for congress. It is still too difficult to overlook the racial issue in elections, and focus on ideological preferences. And if this country is continue to strive for a better democracy this will be a continuing issue in politics.
This three term congresswomen from Georgia has had a strong political background. As a forty-one year old representative she has experienced many of the racial decisions the country had made. Her father, J.E. ?Billy? McKinney has been a major black influence in the Georgia state legislature for over twenty years. By being a major activist in civil rights the elder McKinney won a seat in the Statehouse in the mid-seventies; and fifteen years later his daughter gained a seat. They have been the only father-daughter legislative team in the country. As a state representative Cynthia helped re-district her own future district by aggressively gaining a seat on the re-districting committee. One year later she was running in one of those districts on a very low-budget, yet aggressive campaign. Her victory in 1992 made her the first black women ever elected to Congress from Georgia.
Up until 1990 Georgia had only 10 congressional seats. But after the 1990 census they gained a seat which forced them to develop new districts. McKinney?s eleventh district became the third black-majority district in the state, and Georgia went from having no black representatives to having three. Taking this into consideration it is easy to see that race is still a predominate factor in voting, and therefore in order to gain equality, it should be a factor in districting. The eleventh district has often been labeled as ?Sherman?s March? because it stretches over 260 miles and 22 counties from Atlanta to Savannah, much like the General?s path in the Civil War. Aside from having this odd shape the district is 64% black and heavily democratic. In the 1992 presidential election 67% of the vote went to Clinton in this district while less than half went to him from all of the United States.
McKinney currently serves on the House Agricultural committee and the International Relations committee (as well as the sub-committees of Department Operations, Nutrition and foreign Agriculture, and International Operations and Human Rights). As a feisty and out-spoken leader she has worked on ?cutting the budget while continuing to fulfill needs to children and the poor?, as it states in the 1996 edition of Politics Now. At one point in her first term she took on a mining company of kaolin in her district which was accused of price-fixing and fraud, and in late September 1994 the Justice Department launched an antitrust probe into this industries activities. It was achievements like these that got her easily re-elected in 1994.
By this time she took on the role of being a fiery opponent to fellow Georgian Newt Gingrich. She was one of the three members who brought the current ethic complaints against the Speaker of the House for accepting free Cable- TV time which violated anti-gift rules. However, in 1994 McKinney received almost no white votes, even though she received 66% of the total vote in the district. From statistics like this, it is sufficient to believe that her political future seemed to depend on maintaining a majority black district. However, after the courts ruling on her district as being a ?racial gerrymander?, maintaining the district did not appear to be plausible.
The idea of redistricting is a very complicated subject. It calls for equal representation when differences are inevitable. Of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives each seat is apportioned by the population of the states under the ?Method of Equal Proportions?. This method states that the differences of the size of district should be kept at a minimum. The national average is 570,000 people per district, but many districts have well over this amount as well as many below. On page 46 of Davidson and Oleszek?s book, Congress and its Members, it states ?Because population figures determine seat and affect power, it is no surprise that nearly everything concerning the apportionment and districting process is controversial?. Many of the arguments concern the official population census and its accuracy. Some claim that the census needs a revised count because it does not include the hard-to-detect population, mostly of whim are located in the inner city. An unrevised count, the people claim, violates the Constitution?s equal protection clause. Along with this debate follows the idea of ?one person one vote?. If populations of districts are extremely unbalanced than it is obvious that a person?s vote is going to count more than another?s. In 1962 case of this concern went to the Supreme Court. In Baker v. Carr the Court declared in a 6-2 decision that districting can violate the 14th Amendments?s equal protection clause. This case made it apparent that legislative apportionment is a legitimate judicial issue.
Further more, in 1965 the Voting Rights Act added that legislature?s could not dilute representation of racial minorities when redistricting. This act, along with the idea of equal representation brought the courts to play and active role in redistricting in the last thirty years. However, these two basic theories have often been on the same side of many courts decisions, but in the case of the eleventh district in Georgia equal representation and the rights of minorities are at odds with on another. As mentioned before the district was seen as a ?racial gerrymander? and was declared unconstitutional.
A gerrymander is a way of drawing boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage over another. It comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who in 1812 created a district north of Boston which was intended to give disproportionate representation to his own party, the Democratic-republicans. The geographic shape resembled a salamander, which brought about the name gerrymander. But one interesting point to note is that not all gerrymandering is illegal, though it might be condemned. The condemnation stems from the idea that it violates the two basic tenets of electoral proportions; the compactness, or the reluctance to form strange shapes of districts, and the equality of size of the constituencies. But in the states legislatures today, majority parties continue to practice gerrymandering. Davidson and Oleszek are clear to points out that ?all districting is gerrymandering?(p.47), in which it is often used for partisan advantage, to protect incumbents, to boost state legislators political ambitions (for example, McKinney was on the redistricting committee that created her former district), and to help hinder racial or ethnic groups. Although it often seems unfair to gerrymander, only the gerrymandering that violates the Constitution are the only ones that are declared illegal and whose districts are forced to be redesigned. Hence gerrymandering appears to be illegal; and as Rep. Vic Fazio(D-Ca.) Is clear to point out ?Some people see it and some people don?t. It is often something that is a purely partisan attack on what is a purely partisan process and no party is guilty or without guilt?(Davidson and Oleszek, p.50).
The idea of racial gerrymandering is just of a debatable issue. It is a form of gerrymandering which is used to promote the election of the racial minority, and there has been support for the legality of it, and the illegality as well. As with the case of Georgia, drawing up a district with the primary intent of electing a black official is unconstitutional because it does not give equal protection to white voters (Although it should be noted that the four plaintiffs of the court case Miller v. Johnson do not live in the eleventh district- Congressional Quarterly Fall 1995). On the other hand, the proponents of the eleventh district cite the Voting Rights Act and its 1982 amendments that Congress passed to defend the constitutionality of the gerrymandering. Some see the amendments of 1982 as a way to encourage ?packing? districts to elect minorities.
It has been this debate that have come in most of the gerrymandering case in the 1990’s.
Before the case of Miller v. Johnson there has been two major cases which have served as a basis for the Georgia case. In the first Voinovich v. Quilter the majority-minority district created by the Ohio legislature were upheld. Speaking for the unanimous court opinion Justice Sandra Day O?Connor stated, ?The state may create any district it might desire, so long as minority voting strength is not diluted as such?. But in the case of the court seeing blatant racial gerrymanders it declared a much different outcome. In Shaw v. Reno, a case that declared a North Carolina district-in which the first black representative ever from the state was elected-unconstitutional. It was a difficult decision with the court decided in a 5-4 vote, but majority still was in favor of destroying the district. The opinion of the majority was that the district diluted whites and violated their right of equal protection under the law. However, the court did consider that race-conscious districting might be permissible as long as it does not contain ?bizarre? boundaries. And it is the vagueness from this consideration that McKinney?s district and its battle with the court stems.
In a June 29, 1995 article of the New York Times it stated that the Miller v. Johnson ?could erase some of the recent electoral gains made by blacks in Congress and state legislatures?. This decision was also a 5-4 vote in favor of the district being unconstitutional, and it was based on the fact that race was the ?predominant? factor in creating the district. This decision is very ironic since it produces the reverse effect of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Times also stated that ?Kennedy?s opinion…left many important questions unanswered about how the new standard should be applied in other cases?. In other words, how is it going to be decided that race is the ?predominant? factor? This decision goes beyond the Shaw v.Reno case because it shows that shape is not the only problem of declaring racial gerrymanders. And as Deval L. Patrick, the assistant Attorney General for civil rights, stated, ?If you take all the decisions today together, the court has really raised more questions than it has answered?. From the 1990 census 14 states have adopted redistricting plans and the number of black and Hispanic representatives have jumped from 26 to 52. The case of the Georgian district could only be the beginning.
At the outset of the decision, things looked bleak for McKinney, and for minorites as a whole. The 1996 election would appear to be difficult one since it would be inevitable that McKinney would lose most of her electoral support when she finds herself in a new district. The frusteration of McKinney herself was seen in her comments in the fall issue of Congressional Quarterly. ?It is a setback for democracy. It is a sham that we are even here arguing whether or not we have gone overboard on perfecting democracy?(p.24).
After the Supreme Court decision the districts were thrown back to a three judge panel, which decided by a 2-1 vote that the districts ?had effectively disinfrancised white?, and should be dismantled. The panel went on to form just one black majority district based around Atlanta whose representive is John Lewis. From this McKinney?s new home was the fourth district, but it was still undecided how friendly this new home would be.
The fourth district had half as many blacks; it went from a 64% black population to a 30% population. This was just one of the difficulties that McKinney did overcome in her victory in the fourth congressional district of Georgia, which is located in the east and northeast suburbs of Atlanta. She won with 58% of the vote, in which she carried 90% of the black vote and 31% of the white vote- much more than she did in her 1994 election.
The 1996 elections produced 37 victories for black candidates (36 democrats and 1 republican), and McKinney was just one of seven blacks who won with a black population of less than 40%. As mentioned earlier there is a question for the reason behind this. One answer is that voters are crossing racial lines, and ideology is taking precedence. The other idea is that the power of imcubency is still the dominant factor in elections. Cynthia McKinney did overcome the defeat of the Supreme Court?s decision, but the problem is far from over. The elections of 1996, and especially McKinney?s, cause mixed feelings for blacks representatives and for the court. McKinney won a short term battle but could in effect lose the long term war for proprtional black representation. The only way to overcome this is to see the real reasons for McKinney?s victory.
In an article in the New York on November 23, 1996