Political Animal


February 03, 2012 1:07 PM Berman on “Resegregating the South”

By Ed Kilgore

At The Nation, Ari Berman has an important and exhaustive article on the GOP’s use of its control over redistricting in southern states to draw congressional and state legislative maps in a way that undermines biracial coalitions that might support Democratic candidates. The basic device, known in legal circles as “packing” and “bleaching,” involves isolating African-American voters in heavily majority-black districts, reducing or eliminating their influence in majority-white districts.

Southern veterans of the redistricting wars remember how powerful these practices were during the 1990s redistricting cycle, which contributed (along with other factors, particularly large-scale retirements of Democratic incumbents) to the 1994 GOP takeover of the U.S. House, and to the partisan realignment of the South. As Berman notes, one big thing that has changed since then, however, is that civil rights groups and African-American politicians, who once cooperated with GOP “packing” efforts in order to give African-American incumbents safe seats (or to put it another way, to consolidate fragile gains), are now generally on the other side of the barricades.

Complicating the picture considerably is that the federal courts, and particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, are in a state of chronic disarray in terms of its interpretation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when it comes to race-conscious gerrymandering. And even as Republican pols and lawyers have sought to utilize the VRA tactically to defend “packing” and “bleaching,” they and their friends on the bench have inched closer each year to a major challenge to the VRA and its Section 5 “preclearance” provision that requires (mainly) southern jurisdictions to submit redistricting plans to the Justice Department for a ruling on their impact on minority voting rights.

Speaking of the Justice Department, Berman notes considerable dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s Civil Rights Division relative passivity towards GOP redistricting maneuvers, but also suggests the administration may be saving its political capital for even more fundamental challenges to the right to vote posed by Republican state legislators around the country.

The one thing that is very clear is that Democrats and minority voters alike are paying a high price for the Donkey Party’s poor performance in 2010, on the very brink of decennial reapportionment.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • dj spellchecka on February 03, 2012 1:17 PM:

    that happened in ohio, where the redrawn map has a barbell shaped district that connects the african american parts of cleveland and akron

  • Josef K on February 03, 2012 1:17 PM:

    Something else has changed since the 1960s: American culture has become ever more militarized, and that includes minorities. If these old-timers expect their efforts will go on without hinderance or (possibly armed) resistance, I expect they'll be in for a rude awakening.

  • Rich on February 03, 2012 1:26 PM:

    This is one reason why the Dem's helplessness and disarray in 2010 has been such a disaster. Obama should not have brought so many governors into the administration and they should have done a decent job of selling health care reform and the stimulus.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 03, 2012 1:29 PM:

    This shouldn't have been hard to predict in 2010. Some concerted GOTV / outreach to help younger Obama voters in key gerrymandering states understand the stakes would have been helpful.

    Oh well, a wise man once said something about spilt milk.... but let's not make the same mistakes again.

  • bushworstpresidentever on February 03, 2012 1:50 PM:

    And this is why John Boehner came out and said he thinks the Rethugs will have a permanent majority in the House.

  • Gummitch on February 03, 2012 1:55 PM:

    And this is why John Boehner came out and said he thinks the Rethugs will have a permanent majority in the House.

    Well, that and the fact that he's a bald-faced liar.

  • Hyde on February 03, 2012 2:37 PM:

    This was the explicit intent behind the mid-decade redistricting in Texas several years ago: not merely reducing the number of Democrats (that's just politics as usual), but insuring that any Democrats that did get elected were minorities, thus stamping the party as "not for white folks."

    As the Nation article points out, the number of minorities in Texas has gotten so high that there's no way to accomplish both goals (minority packing that still elects very few Democrats) without a truly tortured gerrymander. Demographics, and the moderating influence of heavy growth, should make Texas more (relatively) Democratic before long. But changing this attitude throughout the South figures to be a project that will need several decades to come to fruition. A strong two-party system with white people heavily represented in both parties is something that has existed in the South essentially never.

  • CDW on February 03, 2012 2:38 PM:

    Your preview section is messed up. Get it fixed or I'm outta here. Your comment section is among the worst on the web anyway. Only slightly better than the ones that require facebook signin.

  • Vicente Fox on February 03, 2012 2:52 PM:

    African-American politicians, who once cooperated with GOP “packing” efforts in order to give African-American incumbents safe seats

    A case of 'be careful what you wish for'.

  • Patience on February 03, 2012 2:56 PM:

    It's hard to be patient with this idea that "political capital" is something that needs to be carefully husbanded and spent on only one issue at a time rather than being used as aggressively as possible (in this case, not worrying about gerrymandering in order to focus on voter fraud). Most people did not expect the 2010 elections to be a mandate to get the government out of the workplace and into our bedrooms, yet that's exactly what the GOP has done, deficit spending its political capital just to see how much it can get away with.

  • Mark L on February 03, 2012 2:58 PM:

    Here in the liberal state of Maryland, the NAACP was prepared to join with the GOP and challenge efforts to end some of the "packing." Under Gov. O'Malley's House redistricting plan, Republican Roscoe Bartlett would likely lose his seat to a Democrat. However, the district of Donna Edwards, which currently wraps around the DC suburbs and includes large numbers of minority voters, would also become slightly more conservative. The effort to block the redistricting plan was ultimately dropped and Edwards' most serious Democratic rival has decided not to run, making her re-election chances good. Still, that does not change the fact that "packing" and "bleaching" aren't exclusively the concerns deep red southern states.

  • TeaListen3456 on February 03, 2012 8:53 PM:

    This is where the GOP is cunning and snakes; they're working from the inside out instead of the outside in. They believe that as the older African American civil rights warriors die out--then they'll come behind them and remap districts, have Clarence "TOM" Thomas to help them make it law and the VRA will be no more. The Republicans gave an exemplary example of their intentions in Wisconsin with the election of Scott Walker, the only problem is that the only working class in Wisconsin are white folks. There are no jobs in Wisconsin for Black folks. Anyway, the GOP will infiltrate Black causes by becoming governors and taking the federal money that they get to kill any social programs. Watch the supreme court and watch GOP Governors across this nation.

  • pjcamp on February 04, 2012 1:30 AM:

    I don't know why I have to keep pointing this out, but Tom Delay proved conclusively that it is not "decennial" reapportionment. You can reapportion any time you damn well please, and the court decisions supporting that are already in place. Are Democrats clinically insane? That's the only reason I can come up with for unilateral disarmament.