Racial Quotas in Partisan Gerrymandering

Author: Jon Kelly, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Every ten years, a special ritual, steeped in political history, takes place in the United States. That ritual is the reapportionment and redrawing of state and federal congressional maps. Redrawing legislative districts serves to keep representation relatively equal among voters, i.e., to ensure each district has an equal amount of voters. Following the release of the census data, the political party in power has incentive to redraw districts in a manner that maximizes party control and protects incumbents. This strategy is called gerrymandering. Partisan gerrymandering, despite criticism, is permissible so long as voters retain a relatively equal voice (equal populations per district) and there is no discriminatory purpose in the redistricting.

On November 12, 2014, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. The Court is expected to answer whether the Republican-controlled Alabama legislature took part in racial gerrymandering when redrawing state senate and house districts. In Alabama, the racial gerrymandering claims will likely fail because the redistricting was done under racial considerations but with regard to the mandates of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). As such, Alabama’s state legislature engaged in permissible partisan gerrymandering, void of discriminatory intent. Given the nature of the questions the justices asked during oral argument in the case this past November, the Court is likely to agree that the VRA is invaluable to the redistricting process and uphold the redistricting.

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