by Jason J. Carter
I am convinced that redistricting is important. Make no mistake: this is where we create the rules of our political system. In making these maps, our legislature defines the very structure of our democracy.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I have heard others misstate and misapply the law; and perpetuate intentional falsehoods about the Voting Rights Act. And I don’t know that I understood the magnitude of what was going on until this last weekend.
I kept trying to understand how the majority party could read the law and understand our history and come to the conclusion that they were correct about the Voting Rights Act.
And, as I sat with Rep. John Lewis before his testimony in the House Reapportionment Committee I realized – they don’t want to follow the Voting Rights Act.
You want to change the Voting Rights Act because you don’t like the result.
You want to turn the Voting Rights Act on its head by turning it into a tool of racial division instead of the tool of reconciliation that is intended to be.
And so there has been a campaign of misinformation about the meaning of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This campaign has confused the public, it has confused the media and it almost confused me.
I rise today to set the record straight.
In drawing these maps, there are two sections of the Voting Rights Act: Section 2 and Section 5. These are different laws.
Section 2 applies to the whole country and ensures equality of opportunity.
But Section 5 is different. It applies only in certain places with a history of discrimination, and it is there to remedy that discrimination and insure that places like Georgia do not take any steps backward.
Section 5 forbids a state from diminishing a minority community’s ability to elect the candidate of its choice – once that community has built power, the state cannot diminish that power. This is called “retrogression” – and it is illegal by command of the United States.
Now, the majority party has paraded around the halls of this Capitol with the case of Bartlett v. Strickland. The senator from the 46th talked about it on the floor of this Chamber, and on the radio. The Republican Whip in the House sent it out to his email list and talked about it on the floor of his Chamber.
The Republican lawyers have apparently advised the majority party that this Bartlett case says that the Voting Rights Act does not care about any district unless that district is a majority-minority. You’ve been told that this Bartlett case says that you don’t consider multiracial coalitions or “cross over districts” where the black community is not a majority, but where they can band together with whites and still elect the candidate of their choice.
The Republican lawyers have created this legal theory – and the majority party has used it as an excuse to destroy multiracial coalitions at every opportunity.
As the maps stand today, in this Senate, there are 14 districts that are majority minority. And there are at least seven where a multiracial coalition can - and has - elected a candidate of its choice.
Your new map creates one additional majority minority district, at the expense of at least four districts where multiracial coalitions have been successful. One of those crossover districts, the 14th, is eliminated entirely.
This congressional map does the same thing. It eliminates three crossover districts in favor of two majority-minority ones.
This is the definition of retrogression.
In targeting and penalizing multiracial coalitions, this body has made it policy to say that black districts should elect black candidates, and white districts should elect white ones.
And you have justified this choice by blaming it on the Voting Rights Act.
That claim is simply false. And the interpretation of the law that got you all there is wrong.
You have said that the Voting Rights Act requires the creation of majority minority districts.
The Supreme Court in Bartlett says the opposite:
“Our holding also should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command…” Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U.S. 1, 129 S. Ct. 1231, 1248, 173 L. Ed. 2d 173 (2009).
You have said that multiracial crossover districts don’t matter under the Voting Rights Act.
Again, the Supreme Court says the opposite:
“[A]s the Court has noted in the context of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, various studies have suggested that the most effective way to maximize minority voting strength may be to create more influence or crossover] districts.” Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U.S. 1, 129 S. Ct. 1231, 1248, 173 L. Ed. 2d 173 (2009).
The Court goes on to say:
“Crossover districts are, by definition, the result of white voters joining forces with minority voters to elect their preferred candidate. The Voting Rights Act was passed to foster this cooperation.” Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U.S. 1, 129 S. Ct. 1231, 1249, 173 L. Ed. 2d 173 (2009).
Most importantly the Court in Bartlett gave clear guidance about precisely the campaign that this General Assembly has waged against multiracial coalitions:
“[I]f there were a showing that a State intentionally drew district lines in order to destroy otherwise effective crossover districts, that would raise serious questions under both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.” Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U.S. 1, 129 S. Ct. 1231, 1249, 173 L. Ed. 2d 173 (2009).
That is what you did in the senate map. And, it is what you are doing in the 12th District in this congressional map.
The Republican Whip in the House has been quoting the legislative history report issued when Congress amended the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Let me tell you what that report really says about multiracial coalitions and Section 5:
“Voting changes that leave a minority group less able to elect a preferred candidate of choice, either directly or when coalesced with other voters, cannot be precleared under Section 5." H.R. REP. 109-467, P. 46, 109TH CONG. 2ND SESS. (2006).
That language could not be clearer. But the majority party has been walking around saying it says the opposite. This is the bill of goods that the Republican lawyers have sold you. And, the tax payers will have to pick up the tab.
Why do this? Why twist the law, and go to such great lengths to undermine the multiracial coalitions that have been built in our state?
The answer is the same as always: partisan politics.
Here’s the elephant in the room: the majority party wants to destroy districts where multiracial coalitions elect candidates because the majority does not like the candidates that those coalitions elect.
And that is because multiracial coalitions in Georgia elect Democrats.
Let’s look at the data. In Georgia, we don’t keep track of how people vote by race. But we do keep track of which party’s primary people vote in.
According to the Secretary of State’s web page, the 2010 Republican primary was 95.7 percent white.
The 2008 Republican Presidential Primary was 95.7 percent white.
And in the July 2008 Primary it was 95.9 percent white.
By way of comparison, in that same July 2008 election, the Democratic Primary was 49.4 percent white and 48.2 percent black.
Now, I have heard criticisms that the Voting Rights Act should not be a Democratic Incumbent Protection Plan. And I agree.
But, it is clear that the Voting Rights Act protects the power that black voters have acquired by building multiracial coalitions. That’s what Congress said, and that’s what the Supreme Court has said, even in the Bartlett case that the Republicans have trumpeted.
And if the majority party doesn’t like the partisan results that come from protecting multiracial coalitions, the answer is not to destroy the Voting Rights Act. The answer is to build some multiracial coalitions of your own.
I will conclude with this:
I have heard numerous reports about how this round of redistricting is going to doom the Democrats in Georgia. But the statistics demonstrate that if nothing changes, there is only one party that is doomed.
Today, the leadership of this state will confirm its policy of undermining multiracial coalitions. But, in the end, it won’t matter.
We live in an international community and a global economy. Every businessperson knows it. The future of this state is a multi-cultural, multiracial future.
It is a future where people of all races will live together, work together, prosper together and will govern this state together. And today, only one party can claim to be the party of that future.
These maps are wrong. They will be struck down. And if you vote for them you will be on the wrong side of history.
Mr. Carter, a Democrat, is a Georgia state senator representing District 42. This was the speech he made Wednesday from the well of the Georgia Senate.