Let me first say for this post that I am no fan of big government. I do not like social engineering, nor do I appreciate the government mandating individual action. That said, in the 1960’s the nation was faced with an extremely difficult choice. Allow individuals in the South to purposely discriminate against others or take action against this. In 1964 the nation elected a President and Congress that would act. Ad in 1965 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. This law was intended to insure that individuals of color or race were not discriminated against on this basis.
For the most part this law has lived up to its expectations. Schools and employers rarely if ever discriminate based on race or color. Minorities have just as many opportunities as whites, if not more due to programs such as Affirmative Action. Over the years the Act has been extended to cover other forms of discrimination and include women (though they are now firmly a majority of the populace). But for all the law has done and continues to do the CRA’s lasting legacy looks to increase discrimination. This is not due to te fact Americans are once again treating other Americans as second-class citizens. Rather, it has to do with one specific Section of the CRA’s and how it has been used for partisan and political gain.
Section V of the Civil Rights Act essentially states that election procedures or practices of certain states must be subjected to review by the Justice Department’s Attorney General or the US District Court in DC before being enacted. Initially a temporary addition to the law both Republicans and Democrats extended it over the years to use for partisan and political advantage. Today Section V calls for the states of Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Arizona and Texas to apply for approval of their new Congressional redistricting maps or any change in election law from the DOJ. Furthermore, political subdivisions in at least half a dozen states must also do the same.
But this is not what has led to the CRA’s lasting discriminatory legacy. It is the inevitable actions taken to comply with the CRA. Starting in 1970 what became known as “racial gerrymandering” began. Since Section V of the CRA stated that the power of the minority vote could not be diluted, covered states began packing these voters into congressional districts. The immediate result was that more minorities were elected to Congress, but in the long-term the power of the minority vote has been diluted in Congressional and state legislative elections. The Supreme Court in multiple cases heard throughout the decade has found that “racial gerrymandering” is unconstitutional but under the guise of the CRA is allowed (they call it something else).
This has thus allowed both Democrats and Republicans to pursue partisan and political gain out of the CRA. In the 1970’s and 1980’s both were only to happy to extend the CRA. Afterall, the GOP was strongest in the Midwest where every state was strongly white. Meanwhile, Democrats had complete control of the South due to the congressional voting habits of southern whites and blacks. In the 90’s when southern whites started turning against Democrats at the Congressional level they embraced packing minorities into safe districts as a way to win a few Congressional seats in deeply red states. In 2010 and beyond that trend has only continued.
Many Americans lament how polarized our politics have become. Not just ideologically but class and race based as well. The CRA has only accelerated this trend. As the power of the minority vote has been diluted in the ongoing effort to ironically strengthen it ideological and racial lines have become more clear and harder to bridge. Not only our the goals of southern white Republicans and blacks different but the goals of southern white Democrats (the few that exist) and black Democrats are also different. The South’s two GOP black Congressman are also vastly different than their Democratic colleagues. The lack of cross-over on goals is not the only lasting effect of the CRA. The eliminating of virtually every southern white Democrats is also an unfortunate result.
Starting in 1994 the South began turning against Democrats at the Congressional level. In the Republican Revolution at least two-dozen southern Democratic Congressmen were eliminated. In 2000-02 when congressional lines were redrawn Republicans drew maps which complied with the CRA but insured the eliminating of more southern whites. Due to the results of the wave election of 2010 all but one southern white Congressman was eliminated in the Deep South and the GOP controlled state legislatures drew maps ensuring the packing of minorities in one or two districts. This was not just for partisan gain but because it is MANDATED in the CRA. The South’s lone white Congressman, John Barrow (D-GA), is also deeply endangered due to the redrawing of Georgia’s lines.
It is important to note that Deep Southern states are not the only states covered by the CRA’s Section V. In fact, every state is essentially covered. Once a state hits a certain threshold of voting minorities in comparison to the total voting population a minority-majority district must be created. For example, Ohio has two minority-majority districts, Arizona has one, Texas has multiple minority-majority districts as does NY, North Carolina, VA, FL, etc. This has only further ensured that the voting power of minorities in Congressional elections is further weakened. Instead of being able to swing multiple Congressional elections they are packed into single districts where the result is certain. It is no wonder this has allowed ideological and racial problems in this country to be accelerated.
In 2006 Congress extended the CRA for another 25 years. While nothing was added to the existing legislation the extension of the law ensures the festering problem of race will only get worse in this country. Even worse perhaps is that the CRA is now being used as a political football by the White House and the DOJ as evidenced by the DOJ’s lawsuits against TX (over its new map) and South Carolina’s new voter ID law. To Democrats this offers the advantage of claiming they are looking out for minorities and thus giving them an incentive to come out and vote. For Republicans, they also see an advantage in the CRA. They can limit Democratic gains in the South (with racial gerrymandering) and other regions but also rail against actions taken by the DOJ. This ensures many Congressional districts stay red.
The CRA’s sad lasting legacies continue to this day. It continues to dilute, not strengthen, the power of the minority vote. It only has accelerated racial and ideological problems in this country. Lastly, it has created a perverse incentive for both political parties to use it as a political football to mobilize their bases.
Initially I believed the CRA was needed. But America is ready to move past its racial past. But as long as we have laws like the CRA hampering this (yet supposedly furthering it) America will never be able to have a meaningful, open dialogue about race and the future of the country.