|What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is the process of creating electoral districts in a manner
which gives the dominant political party greater influence in elections. It is named after
the 1812 Mass. Governor, Elbridge Gerry, who signed a bill giving his party such an
advantage. His name was merged with the "salamander" after the elongated,
squiggly shape the creature could assume. Thus "Gerry-mander", or
"gerrymander". This particular practice was struck down by the Supreme
Court in 1985.
Racial Gerrymandering. However, by the time of the 1985 Supreme
Court decision against political gerrymandering, the over-zealous affirmative
action supporters had managed to entrench a tradition of racial gerrymandering
which allowed electoral districts to be redrawn into bizarre shapes in order to create
districts with a majority of minorities. The theory was that this process gave
underrepresented minorities a chance to "elect their own" to office.
The Supreme Court struck down this practice as unconstitutional in two landmark rulings:
Shaw v. Reno (1993) and Miller v. Johnson (1995). Jesse Jackson and the
Congressional Black Caucus tore their garments and fell to the ground, crying "but
minorities will lose their representation in local, state and federal electoral
But it didn't happen that way. Blacks and other minorities have done quite well in
elections in the years following the Miller v. Johnson decision.
Does Racial Gerrymandering Continue?
The Supreme Court decisions ruled against the practice of creating racially
gerrymandered voting districts. But the Supreme Court did not order existing
racially gerrymandered districts to be dismantled. By the time of the 1995 Miller v.
Johnson decision, virtually all geographic voting areas that could be misshapen or
distorted into racial districts had already been drawn.
These "legacy" districts will have to be struck down one by one through judicial
review (lawsuits) and/or specific legislative initiatives. This is a tedious,
cumbersome, and long-term project.
As long as democrats are in the White House, and as long as Republicans only barely hold a
majority in Congress, it can be expected that no significant legislative remedy to this
racist practice will be forthcoming. Therefore, lawsuits (judicial review) will
continue to be the dominant means of dismantling racially gerrymandered voting districts.
Gerrymander ruling makes sense (06/20/97)
"The era of racial discrimination in the electoral process is over. The U.S. Supreme
Court said that again firmly on Thursday. Georgia's Legislature created three
majority-black congressional districts after the 1990 census, drawing very crooked lines
to separate the races.
"Two of those districts were later
struck down by the courts, on the grounds that the equal protection clause does not allow
racial gerrymandering. Federal judges redrew the boundaries." (Jacksonville.com
/ Florida Times-Union, 06/20/97)
(Chicago): Racial Gerrymandering Fails in Windy City
The Chicago story has moved to:
News On Race and Redistricting (12/03/96)
"When the U.S. Supreme Court began invalidating race-based congressional
redistricting plans in its landmark Shaw v. Reno (1993) and Miller v. Johnson (1995)
decisions, virtually all commentators predicted a significant decline in the number of
African Americans serving in Congress.
"Supporters of deliberate racial gerrymandering typically denounced the decisions as
likely to produce a permanent decimation of the Congressional Black Caucus (with his usual
self- restraint, the Rev. Jesse Jackson predicted an "ethnic cleansing" of
"That's not too surprising, since the legal and political rationale for race-based
districting is that racially motivated white voters almost invariably vote as a bloc to
deny office to black candidates. This behavior, the theory goes, would deny representation
to black voters unless they are consolidated in districts where they can elect a House
member without white votes.
"If the first post-Miller election is any indication, it turns out the country does
not have to choose between racially divisive gerrymandering or gross under-representation
of African Americans. Although the courts forced reductions in the minority population
percentages of black incumbents in four states (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas),
all of the affected incumbents won re-election (one, Cleo Fields of Louisiana, chose not
to run)." (Democratic Leadership Council, 12/03/96)
Racial Gerrymandering of Employment Tests
In many locales, a similar principle of "racial gerrymandering" is now being
applied to pre-employment and promotions tests and examinations. The U.S. Dept. of
Justice Office of Civil Rights (under Bill Lann Lee) wholeheartedly endorses (and
vigorously enforces) the notion of "racial test gerrymandering".
This process involves altering employment and promotions exams to have a "minimal
disparate impact on minorities". Most often, this process involves the addition
of subjective test criteria which are not related to technical job skills, such as
"life experience" and "biographical data" (aka "bio-data").
The underpinnings of "racial test gerrymandering" are based in the assumption
that any test that excludes an individual based on literacy, school learning, cognitive
skills, reasoning skills, mathematics, written communications, or academic achievement is
inherently biased against certain racial groups.
Social scientists and psychologists who receive federal funding are encouraged by U.S. DOJ
and the U.S. EEOC to develop complicated statistical formulas which manipulate the results
of skill-based tests in order to "prove" that the tests have a disparate impact
on so-called "disadvantaged" minorities. "Psychometric testing"
is one of the euphemisms used by the U.S. Department of Justice and the EEOC to describe
this type of racial test gerrymandering.
See Also: Racial Gerrymandering of Employment
"Employment discrimination law and its aggressive enforcement by the U.S. Department
of Justice are based on the false assumption that, but for discrimination, all
racial-ethnic groups would pass job-related, unbiased employment tests in equal
"Unreasonable law and enforcement create pressure for personnel psychologists to
violate professional principles and lower the merit relatedness of tests in the service of
race-based goals. This article illustrates such a case by describing how the content of a
police entrance examination in Nassau County, NY, was stripped of crucial cognitive
demands in order to change the racial composition of the applicants who appeared to be
most qualified. In the process, the test was rendered nearly worthless for actually making
"The article concludes by examining the implications of the case for policing in
Nassau County, Congressional oversight of Justice Department activities, and psychology's
role in helping its members to avoid such coercion."
Racially Gerrymandering the Content of Police Tests to Satisfy U.S. Justice
Department: A Case Study
by Linda S. Gottfredson
Department of Educational Studies
University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716
FAX (302) 831-6058
February 6, 1997
END Racial Gerrymandering MAIN Page