The Supreme Court struck down racial gerrymandering in Shaw v. Reno (1993) and Miller v. Johnson (1995).   What is it, and if its 'illegal' why is it still around?

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Racial Gerrymandering
Last Updated
April 20, 2001

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NEWS: Landmark Case Decided by U.S. Supreme Court - Sort Of...

[April 18, 2001] Today the U.S. Supreme Court allowed North Carolina's racially gerrymandered 12th congressional district.

How is this so in light of previous High Court rulings against racially gerrymandered voting districts?

The case is known as Easley v. Cromartie (No. 99-1864).  The High Court decided that since North Carolina's 12th Congressional District was drawn based upon voting behavior (racial minorities vote Democratic, after all) instead of upon racial characteristics then North Carolina's weird, misshapen district shall be allowed to stand.

See especially:  North Carolina Racial Gerrymandering 04/18/01

[Nov. 27, 2000] -- An appeal currently before the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the racial gerrymandering issue once and for all before more racially gerrymandered voting districts are created with the 2000 census data.

          The State of North Carolina has filed an appeal with the High Court seeking to overturn a North Carolina Federal District Court decision which struck down racial gerrymandering in that state's 12th Congressional District.

          North Carolina (and the Clinton administration) are arguing to keep the 12th Congressional district racially gerrymandered.  White citizens have argued (successfully before two courts in North Carolina) that the 12th district was created for the sole purpose of granting disproportionate voting representation based on race to black citizens.

          The High Court's decision is expected by July 2001 and could once and for all establish an unambiguous national prohibition against racially gerrymandered voting districts.

          For full coverage of this potential landmark case, see the news stories at:  U.S. Supreme Court and North Carolina Racial Gerrymandering.



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.

Top:  Go to top of page.NEXT:  Why Does Gerrymandering Continue?

          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 bodies."

          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.

Why 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. 

PREV:  Definition of Gerrymandering.NEXT:  Gerrymandermandering Background Info.

          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.

Additional Background:

Court:   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.

PREV:  Why does racial gerrymandering continue?NEXT:  Racial Test Gerrymandering.

           "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."  ( / Florida Times-Union, 06/20/97)
[link ]

Illinois (Chicago):  Racial Gerrymandering Fails in Windy City (02/27/99)

The Chicago story has moved to:

Good 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 Congress).

           "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)
[link ]

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".

PREV:  Additional Background.NEXT:  Site Index; Bottom.

          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 Tests
          "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 proportion.

          "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 such determinations.

          "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."

Formal Title:   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
(302) 831-1650
FAX (302) 831-6058
February 6, 1997

[link ]

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.