WASHINGTON -- During Reconstruction, Mississippi created a "shoestring" congressional district, sweeping so many blacks into a narrow district along the river that other districts had comfortably large white majorities. This was racial gerrymandering deplored by liberals.
After the 1990 census determined that North Carolina was 22 percent black, the state's redistricting created a black-majority congressional district. President George H.W. Bush's Justice Department deemed this insufficient under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Hence the creation of North Carolina's 12th District, which slithers 160 miles down Interstate 85. This was racial gerrymandering applauded by liberals. And by cynical Republicans. While preening about their civil rights sensitivity, Republicans could concentrate black voters into electoral ghettos, thereby making contiguous districts more Republican.
Last week, two days after the 44th anniversary of the Selma march that helped pass the 1965 act, the Supreme Court took a timid step toward limiting the perverse use of that act to create political set-asides -- elective offices to which certain preferred minorities are entitled. Last week's ruling revisits the strange career of racial gerrymandering -- how that practice went from execrable to virtuous to mandatory, and became yet another manifestation of the entitlement mentality.
In 1965, the VRA was enacted to combat racial discrimination that denied equal access to voting. Because of judicial interpretations and legislative amendments, it nowrequires racial discrimination in the name of guaranteeing effective voting by certain preferred minorities (blacks and Hispanics). Effectiveness is understood as successful racial or ethnic bloc voting, with success understood as electing members of those blocs. Such results -- minorities electing minority candidates -- have come to be regarded as necessary and sufficient proof of real voting rights.
In 1982, the act was amended (Section 2) to say that a violation occurs if nominating and electing processes "are not equally open to participation" by minority voters in that they "have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." Note that there is no mention of "vote dilution."