Commentary Magazine


Blame Voting Rights Act for Dem Troubles

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

Edsall laments the way the increase in power to black politicians has been accompanied by a consequent decline of southern Democrats. But rather than being honest about the way the 1965 Act led to the empowerment of blacks as individuals, Edsall prefers to heap opprobrium on a Republican Party that has been the unwitting beneficiary of a legal principle created by liberals. It was, after all, a liberal-dominated judiciary that has treated the Voting Rights Act as not merely a mandate to ensure, as it should, that the government see that every citizen’s right to vote is protected, but that district lines must be drawn in order to see to it that minorities would constitute a plurality or majority in as many places as possible. That has led to the creation, not just in the South but in various places around the United States, of districts that are geographic absurdities but which serve to guarantee that blacks and Hispanics can elect one of their one to legislative bodies. Since blacks (and increasingly Hispanics) give a disproportionate percentage of their votes to Democrats, that means Democrats seeking to compete in mixed districts are placed at a disadvantage. That’s bad news for liberals but claiming that this is the work of nefarious Republican strategists is absurd. If Republicans were to redraw district lines in order to prevent the election of minority members, that would be a clear violation of the law as presently understood.

It should be conceded that the ultimate impact of this court-mandated gerrymandering isn’t good for either party or the country. The majority-minority districts have benefited a few politicians and made their communities proud. But it has been this judicial fiat more than partisan impulses that have led to the dramatic decline in competitive House districts around the nation. Republicans would be better off if more of their members had to appeal to a broad cross section of Americans, and so would Democrats.

As for Edsall, he fails to provide a solution to this problem other than to smear the GOP. What, other than creating rules that would make it illegal for people to vote for Republicans, would he suggest to reverse the decline of Southern Democrats who find themselves disadvantaged by court-mandated districts and incapable of appealing to red state voters on the issues? Does he think Democratic attempts to gerrymander in states they control are just as horrible? Given the way the Voting Rights Act has been interpreted, the damage done by this gerrymander mandate is not something any legislature can remedy by constitutional means.

We would all be better off if the parties were not racially polarized, but the left’s determination to demonize Republicans and to wave the bloody shirt of Jim Crow in a feeble attempt to further divide the nation is no answer. 

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