Florida redistricting fight shows conflict between regular district lines and the Voting Rights Act

Washington Examiner | Washington Examiner | 08/14/2015

The Florida legislature is currently redrawing the boundaries of the state's 27 congressional districts in response to a state Supreme Court decision ruling that the current districting plan, in effect for the 2012 and 2014 elections, violates a voter-passed constitutional requirement that districts adhere as much as possible to county and municipal boundaries. This has been widely taken as a criticism of partisan districting by Republicans who have held majorities in both houses of the state legislature for more than 10 years.

But the dirty little secret is that the most egregious district lines — the ones which create the weirdest looking districts — were drawn to be in compliance with the prevailing interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, which requires maximizing the number of majority-minority (i.e., majority-black or majority-Hispanic) districts. And objecting to the plans currently before the legislature is Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, who has held a district that runs along jagged lines from metro Jacksonville to metro Orlando since 1992. Anyone attempting to walk the length of the district risks getting bogged down in a swamp — literally.

Brown complains that the legislature's plan would reduce the black voting age percentage in her district from 50 percent to 45 percent. One might wonder why she's complaining: A Democrat should be able to win just about any 45 percent black district, even where non-blacks vote 80 percent Republican (which they don't in just about any part of the country). Nonetheless Brown may have a good claim.

The Voting Rights Act, as federal legislation, presumably trumps the Florida districting law under the Constitution's supremacy clause.

Among the big fans of the prevailing interpretation of the Voting Rights Act are Republican redistricters, who like the idea of concentrating heavily Democratic voters in a few districts, leaving adjacent districts more Republican than they would be otherwise. The Florida situation is a good illustration of the fact that most of the egregiously shaped congressional districts in the nation owe their creation to that interpretation. Those high-minded folks who love regularly shaped district boundaries and also love the prevailing interpretation of the Voting Rights Act should realize that one of their desiderata is in conflict with the other.

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