Will wonders never cease? Cynthia Tucker, an editorial page writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, admits in a column today that she has been wrong about racial gerrymandering: “I was shortsighted, naïve and narrow-minded to endorse the concept of drawing Congressional districts to take racial demographics into account.”
Apparently she has come to this view at least in part because she fears that black voters will be drawn out of Georgia Republican Austin Scott’s district. She says that racial gerrymandering leads to political extremists of both parties being elected to Congress. Tucker points to former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a “clownish legislator” who was last “heard cozying up to the savage dictator Moammar Gadhafi.” (McKinney was replaced by Hank Johnson who, when last heard from, was worried that Guam might tip over and capsize because of the Marine buildup on the island.) She notes the “crude racial gamesmanship and left-wing histrionics” of such politicians.
Tucker is certainly correct that the Voting Rights Act, particularly Section 5, has been used to force states to use race as a major factor in the redistricting process. And, as her apology suggests, she didn’t have that view in 2006 when Congress was debating the renewal of Section 5, which was passed in 1965 as a temporary five-year measure requiring certain states to get federal approval for all of their voting rules and redistricting plans.
Back then, she charged that the VRA was necessary to prevent Republicans from implementing obviously “racist” requirements such as voter ID. Of course, Georgia’s voter-ID law was upheld by state and federal courts as a perfectly reasonable and nondiscriminatory measure intended to secure the integrity of the election process. And contrary to her drearily repeated claims, it has not hurt the turnout of minority voters in Georgia’s elections.
In 2009, Tucker said in another editorial that Section 5 was still needed because of “the racially charged strategies of the Republican Party.” (Ironically, this is from the woman who, in her mea culpa today, praised Rep. James Clyburn, who has essentially claimed that anyone who opposes President Obama’s policies is a racist: “…the president’s problems are in large measure because of the color of his skin.”)
Conservatives have criticized the pernicious racial gerrymandering caused by the VRA all along, for many of the same reasons that Tucker now belatedly recognizes. The Supreme Court has warned about the unconstitutionality of racial gerrymandering in a number of decisions. As Tucker today recognizes, it segregates voting districts by race. It encourages racial balkanization, identity politics, and a lack of competitiveness in elections. It has led to districts being more racially and ideologically polarized, not less. It insulates candidates and incumbents of both parties to voters with different views, to their detriment.
This has particularly hurt minority candidates, making it harder for those politicians to run for statewide or other larger jurisdiction positions. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, it is, indeed, ‘‘a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.’’
Sure, it took Tucker a long time to realize that we should “give up racial gerrymandering, which turned out not to be quite so benign.” But better late than never. Racial discrimination, no matter what the circumstances, is never benign.
— Roger Clegg is president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C. Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.