The Blog

Voting Rights at the High Court

Cleaning up Congress's mess.

12:00 AM, Apr 28, 2009 • By EDWARD BLUM
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Yet beyond the legal questions of contemporary discrimination and state sovereignty hovers a powerful political question--how voting districts are drawn to comply with Section 5. For the most part, Section 5 covers preclearance of all redistricting; and to the extent a change is retrogressive (dilutive) to the position of minorities, it covers that as well. As NYU professor Richard Pildes has noted, other than minority officeholders whose districts must be immunized from white competition, "the most significant partisan beneficiaries of the Act are Republicans, who gain from the Act's requirement that safe minority districts be created." With reliable minority Democratic voters clustered in gerrymandered minority districts, Republican challengers prevail as easily as their black and Hispanic Democratic counterparts. This "political apartheid" diminishes electoral competition.

As the municipal utility district argues to the Court, "The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965." That Section 5 is stuck in a time warp that will last another two decades--punishing parts of the country for the sins of their grandfathers--ill serves our nation's remarkable racial evolution. Let's hope the Court agrees.

Edward Blum is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is also the director of the Project on Fair Representation which provided support to the plaintiff.