Federal racial gerrymandering cases heat up in three states
Thanks to a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, the federal judiciary has no role in resolving disputes over partisan gerrymandering. But racial gerrymandering remains within the purview of the federal courts, and cases are heating up.
Every 10 years, following the Census Bureau’s counting of the U.S. population, states redraw their legislative and congressional district maps. This redistricting process is supposed to account for population shifts, but both the Democratic and Republican parties have used it to secure as many seats as possible for the following decade.
Legislatures control the redistricting process in more than 30 states, while some states use commissions to draw state lines and a handful have a hybrid system.
There has been legal maneuvering in three states — Alabama, Tennessee and Washington — over the past few days regarding the role race has played in the remapping process.
On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama ordered the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw the congressional map, ruling the new lines violate the Voting Rights Act. On Tuesday, the state attorney general appealed the ruling.
The court determined that the approved map, in which minorities would only be a majority in one out of the state's seven congressional districts, must be redrawn. Black people represent 27 percent of the state population.
“The appropriate remedy is a congressional redistricting plan that includes either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice,” the court wrote in its ruling.
The state Democratic Party has said it is preparing to file a lawsuit over Tennessee’s new congressional district maps after the GOP-run General Assembly moved forward with a plan that dilutes the minority voting power.
According to the Tennessean, the plan “cracks” Davidson County, which is centered on Nashville, spreading the city’s majority-Black population across three districts. Republicans currently hold seven of the state’s nine congressional districts, and this plan could cement their control over an eighth seat.
“We are extremely concerned that the maps that were drawn reflect not just partisan gerrymandering but racial gerrymandering, which is in direct violation of the [Voting Rights Act],” League of Women Voters of Tennessee President Debbie Gould told WPLN.
Last week, a collection of voting rights groups filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight Latino voters and the Southcentral Coalition of People of Color for Redistricting, arguing the state’s new legislative maps violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Latino voters.
“The Commission’s approved state legislative district map cracks Latino voters in the Yakima Valley region, diluting their voting strength by placing them in several legislative districts with white voting majorities,” the lawsuit states. “Under the Commission’s approved state legislative district map, Latino voters in the Yakima Valley region will not be able to elect candidates of their choice and the map does not create a district in the Yakima Valley area that complies with the Voting Rights Act.”
UCLA Voting Rights Project, Campaign Legal Center, and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on behalf of the plaintiffs.
“Federal and state courts have twice invalidated election systems that discriminate against Yakima Valley’s Latino voters,” said Mark Gaber, senior director of redistricting for CLC. “The commission’s refusal to learn from these court decisions has necessitated this third lawsuit. The discriminatory voting practices against Latino voters in the Yakima Valley must end.”
Unlike Alabama and Tennessee, where the legislatures control the redistricting process, Washington uses an independent commission.
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