October 15, 2008

Justice Breyer does the math.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard argument in Bartlett v. Strickland, an important voting rights case:
Christopher G. Browning Jr., North Carolina’s solicitor general, defended the decision of officials there to violate a state law in order to create a district that included about 39 percent of the black voting-age population, saying the Voting Rights Act required the creation of the district to prevent the dilution of the minority group’s ability to elect a representative of its choice.

The fact that the district did not include a majority of black voters was a virtue, Mr. Browning said. True, he said, minority voters would be able to elect a representative of their choice only with the aid of voters from other groups. “Coalition districts help us in reaching the point where race will no longer matter,” Mr. Browning said....

Several justices seemed [say or suggest] that a 50 percent requirement had the usual costs and benefits of what lawyers call “bright line rules.” They are easy to apply, but they can be arbitrary and inflexible....

Justice Stephen G. Breyer proposed [a] number, one tied to the amount of crossover voting from whites needed to elect the minority group’s preferred candidate. “There’s a kind of natural stopping place,” he said. “When I worked out the numbers, it seemed that natural stopping place fell around 42-43 percent.”

10 comments:

Expat(ish) said...

I would normally say that this is crazy crap and a terrible way to think about the voting process, but given the 99% black vote for Obama, I'm not sure what to think anymore.

I don' think this is *racist* voting, merely racial voting, where one uses race instead of class or culture.

It's all pretty depressing.

-XC

Simon said...

I'm inclined to agree with Justice Stevens: he "said all rigid mathematical rules had a common flaw. They assume, he said, 'that the minority communities throughout the country are all alike.'" Perhaps they do and perhaps they don't, but we should hesitate to allow the law to treat them as if they did.

ron st.amant said...

but given the 99% black vote for Obama,

I'm not sure it will hit 95% though that is still significant and backs up your point.

My question is what sort of abstention will conservative African-Americans reach? How many who normally vote Republican will choose to stay home rather than vote against Obama?

SteveR said...

Somewhere between the good intentions of the VRA and common sense based reality are enclaves of black voters connected by freeways and calculations that add some factor to 39% to come up with 42-43%.

I guess somewhere in one of Joe Biden' 25 minute questions at the confirmation hearing was something to evaluate the ability of a justice to do the latter, but at least I can see how they came up with the former.

Of course in the post racial world of President Obama, such things will no longe be necessary.

MadisonMan said...

Wow, a lawyer who can do math. What are the odds of that happening!

John Thacker said...

It's unsurprising to me that Justice Breyer would prefer a formula like that. He did, after all, have a huge role in writing the sentencing guidelines. I suspect he likes that sort of calculation.

John Thacker said...

The argument seems to be thus:

The Voting Rights Act apparently forbids gerrymandering specifically for denying one race the right to elect a representative. Previous cases have held that if a minority group could form a majority in a compact single-member district, it is unacceptable to pool them in a larger multi-member district or divide them into surrounding areas for the purposes of diluting their vote.

North Carolina state law generally requires that state legislature districts be compact and match county lines as much as possible, and allows multi-member districts.

The state legislature drew a district that was about 39% black, violating the normal compactness rule about following county borders, saying that the Voting Rights Act required drawing such a district (where blacks would tend to win election) if possible. The county commissioners sued, saying that such a district was required to be drawn only if it could be drawn in such a way as to make blacks a majority, and that 39% didn't cut it, so the state law about following county borders should have been used instead.

cokaygne said...

I guess this is why I'm not a lawyer or a politician and tend to dislike, or at least distrust, those who are. In this day and age it should be fairly easy to assign a computer the task of drawing up districts by first dividing the state's population by the number of representatives, drawing the first district by starting with the population of one census block and adding contiguous census blocks until that average population is reached, and then repeating with the next contiguous block as the core of the second district and so on. What is so hard about that? Why would that discriminate against anyone? Why is there no concern about the sewer that our politics has become because our representatives are hard core partisans elected from districts gerrymandered reflect party strength?

Trooper York said...

No body cares about this law crap. More photos of plants with hairy balls and dogs urinating please.

Brad V said...

Elbridge Gerry rides again.