SACRAMENTO, California—Last week was busy in terms of redistricting, as California joined six other states in lawsuits regarding legislative district maps.
On 29 September 2011, Republicans filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court, challenging the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s (CRC) Congressional district maps adopted on 15 August 2011.
The voter created CRC had the task of creating new Congressional, Senatorial, Assembly, and Board of Equalization maps, establishing districts to be used for statewide elections during the next ten years.
Consisting of 14 members, the CRC was to have 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and four members with no political affiliation.
The Congressional district map suit comes after the group Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR) filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court on 15 September 2011, regarding the adopted Senatorial maps.
Among the accusations in the suit, FAIR believes the new Senatorial maps diminish the voices of Latino voters in Monterrey, Santa Clara, and the San Fernando portion of Los Angeles (LA) County, violating the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
FAIR’s suit asks the State Supreme Court to appoint “special masters” to draw a map with new Senate boundaries.
The new Republican suit accuses the CRC of violating the VRA by intentionally diminishing African American votes in three LA County districts.
Though not included in the suit, the Vietnamese American community in and near OC’s Little Saigon was also split mainly into two separate Congressional districts, diminishing the Asian American vote.
The Congressional district map suit further alleges that the three contested districts were drawn to protect incumbents, something the CRC was intended to end.
Before the CRC, California lawmakers drew their own districts.
The suit asks the State Supreme Court to appoint one “special master” who will draw an entirely new map for all 53 Congressional districts.
Republicans have “often pushed Voting Rights claims when they really object to the plan on other grounds,” KPCC quoted University of California (UC) Berkeley Political Science Professor Bruce Cain as saying on 30 September 2011.
However, there have been historical injustices behind redistricting, where lawmakers have purposefully drawn lines to disadvantage certain groups by diluting their political voices.
In fact, there are 16 states with such histories that are required to have their revised maps submitted to the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) every ten years.
Still, there are redistricting lawsuits against states, signifying they still disadvantage certain groups.
And there are still people fighting to stop them.
Problems in a few other states
So far, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Missouri have redistricting lawsuits filed in their states.
Like California, Arizona’s new state district maps were drawn by a voter created independent citizens’ group. Arizona voters also hoped Arizona lawmakers would no longer have biased hands in redistricting.
Arizona is one of the states required to submit state redistricting maps to the DOJ every ten years. It also has seen discrimination against Latinos on the rise.
However, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) has been criticized by Conservatives of not being independent, rather politically biased toward Democrats.
The AIRC consists of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent chairwoman. Conservative critics are upset that the AIRC voted 3-2, with both Republicans opposed, to hire a Washington based mapping consultant, who was involved in President Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign.
Arizona’s attorney general, Mr. Tom Horne has joined in the criticism, opening an investigation regarding whether or not the AIRC violated the Open Meeting Law by privately gathering votes for the mapping consultant before voting in public.
However, Mr. Horne has been criticized of being biased and already deciding the outcome of his own investigation.
As all three non-Republican AIRC commissioners have refused to testify in Mr. Horne’s investigation, he is attempting to use a 7 November 2011 Maricopa County court hearing to force them to testify.
Florida is another state required to submit its state district maps to the DOJ every ten years.
The result of a deal between Republicans and minority representatives, Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown was elected to represent a largely African-American district in 1992.
She’s been elected to Congress in that district ever since.
The way the deal works, is African American neighborhoods in a 150 mile long, narrow width area of three cities form a single district.
African Americans in those neighborhoods, who tend to vote Democrat, are represented in Congress; while, mostly White, Republican voters make up the rest of the state’s Congressional districts.
In 2010, Congresswoman Brown’s seat was challenged as voters approved a ballot measure that made gerrymandering amendments. The state constitutional amendments made it illegal for districts to be drawn that would help or hurt specific incumbents or parties.
Congresswoman Brown still won in the general 2010 elections.
A U.S. District judge upheld an amendment in early September, saying it did not violate the U.S. Constitution, as Congresswoman Brown and others had attempted to prove.
The Florida House of Representatives is appealing the judge’s ruling, using tax dollars to fight the voter supported amendment.
The establishment of the VRA in 1965 enforced the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified nearly 100 years earlier in 1870.
Under the 15th Amendment, it became illegal to deny someone voting rights based on the person’s race, skin color, or “previous condition of servitude,” meaning slavery.
The 15th Amendment was ratified seven years after all slaves, who were mostly African American, were declared free under the Emancipation Proclamation.
Though, freedom did not mean voting.
Beginning in the 1870s, lawmakers participated in many measures, like literacy tests and poll taxes, to keep African Americans from voting.
As the United States developed ethnically, more ethnic minority groups became disadvantaged politically, unwelcome in the voting process.
Although the establishment of VRA legislatively bans diminishing the ethnic minority vote, it still happens. Plus, as nationwide redistricting lawsuits are showing, there are other ways to diminish voices whether limiting ethnic minority votes or not.
And, as shown by the lawsuits, just like people fought for nearly 100 years to legalize voting rights enforcement, they continue to fight for proof of such enforcement.
Thought to consider
Has your community ever been disadvantaged under the VRA? If so, how so?