Racial Gerrymandering – Bridging the Gap

Racial gerrymandering occurs when race unconstitutionally predominates in drawing districts and there is not a compelling state reason to do that. Complying with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is such a compelling state reason. However, “states cannot mistakenly invoke the VRA to engage in excessive and unjustified uses of race in redistricting.” Racial gerrymandering claims don’t apply to a whole plan, but only to individual districts.

Before drawing majority-minority districts, the map drawers must have evidence that the VRA requires such a district. A vote dilution claim requires a showing of three things. First, that you can draw a reasonably compact and contiguous majority-minority district. Second, that minority’s voters generally vote alike. Finally, white voters usually bloc vote to defeat the candidates of choice of minority voters.  Otherwise, the VRA would not require drawing a majority-minority district. 

In drawing districts to avoid vote dilution, map drawers can only provide an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice—not a “safe” district. The remedy must be narrowly tailored.

The courts have identified (at n. 14) red flags that signal racial predominance. Using a racial proportion target for majority-minority districts. Legislators declaring that racial considerations predominated. Indicating that race can’t be compromised in drawing. Drawing snakelike or otherwise bizarre-looking districts to gather in enough minority population to create a majority-minority district. Using land bridges to the same end. Disregarding political jurisdiction lines. 

Despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on partisan gerrymandering, “[p]artisanship cannot be used to justify a racial gerrymander.” So, future litigation of racial gerrymandering claims will continue.

John C. Ruoff, Ph.D.

The Ruoff Group