Though the number of African-Americans elected to state legislatures in this area of the country since enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 has grown to over 300, they have effectively been shut out of the power structure.
That’s the conclusion Tom Edsall reaches in today’s New York Times — perhaps the most cogent explanation to date of just how Republicans have used redistricting laws, and in particular the concept of “majority minority” districts, to entrench themselves in state legislatures:
Republican legislators in the South have moved aggressively on two fronts to secure their power: by designing legislative and Congressional districts minimizing Democratic prospects and by moving ahead with legislation designed to suppress voting under the guise of combating voter fraud.
Mark Braden, a Republican lawyer who’s worked for years on redistricting efforts in the South, admitted as much in a recent forum at the Brookings Institution (as quoted at the electionlawblog):
. . of course, redistricting based upon race has been vital to the creation of the Republican Party itself. I mean, there’s no question about that throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s. People that were working with me was the minority community in the South, and that’s what permitted the Republican party to become the majority party in those states at the local and legislative level.
Edsall proceeds to discuss just how that happened – with what could be the playbook used for the 2011 redistricting plan upheld this week by a three-judge panel here :
Republicans in control of redistricting have two goals: the defeat of white Democrats, and the creation of safe districts for Republicans. They have achieved both of these goals by increasing the number of districts likely to elect an African-American. Black voters are gerrymandered out of districts represented by whites of both parties, making the Democratic incumbent weaker and the Republican incumbent stronger.