July 24, 2018

No more silencing of Black voters: VOTE files Johnson v. Ardoin to end racial gerrymandering in Louisiana

 

These graphs demonstrate the problematic nature of racial gerrymandering, which is when politicians draw Congressional district lines to dilute the power of minority voters. District 2 divides District 1 in half and cuts through District 6. As a result, voters living in District 2 are extremely spread out, which reduces their collective impact on the state.

 

In an ideal world, since Louisiana’s population is one-third Black, you might expect one-third of its Representatives to be Black, too. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the Second Congressional District (CD2) is the only one of the state’s six Congressional districts with a Black Representative, Cedric Richmond. This is also the only district where the majority of voters belong to a racial minority, making it what is known as a majority-minority district. In Republican states like Louisiana, a majority-minority district tends to be a political as well as a racial minority, with Black and Latinx Americans overwhelmingly voting for Democrat candidates. CD2 is represented by a Black Democrat, yet the remaining five districts are represented by white Republicans. This lack of representation for Black citizens in Louisiana is a result of a process called gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering occurs when district lines that determine whose vote counts where are intentionally drawn to favor one party. Each state in the U.S. has a number of district Representatives elected to the House that corresponds to its population. For example, Texas has an estimated population of 28 million and has 36 House  Representatives. Louisiana, on the other hand, with an estimated population of 4 million, has 6 House Representatives who each represent one district. Every 10 years when the national census is updated, districts are redrawn to adjust for changes in population. The political majority in a state has the final say in this process. Since Louisiana is a majority Republican state, those are the politicians who have the power to manipulate district lines in their favor.

VOTE’s Executive Director Norris Henderson and eight other Black Louisianans recently filed Johnson v. Ardoin to challenge this political manipulation, arguing that the 2011 Congressional plan, which maps out Louisiana’s voting districts, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits practices that serve to dilute the power of the minority vote. According to Section 2, any practice in which U.S. citizens “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice” is unconstitutional. Johnson v. Ardoin is named after Jamila Johnson, a Black citizen of New Orleans who is registered to vote in CD2, and Kyle Ardoin, the acting Secretary of State of Louisiana.

The plaintiffs, or those suing Louisiana, describe the unfair Congressional plan with the terms, cracking and packing. The lines of CD2 are drawn in a way that packs a large portion of Louisiana’s Black population into one district. The remaining portion of the Black population is split between five districts, making the Black vote a minority in each district. This plan, in other words, is a prime example of racial gerrymandering. The plaintiffs in Johnson v. Ardoin ask that no more elections take place until the 2011 Congressional plan is replaced with a new one that includes two majority-minority Congressional districts.

Concerned citizens in other states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Connecticut have joined Louisiana in filing lawsuits against racial gerrymandering. Lower courts in Texas ordered the redrawing of two districts due to racial gerrymandering. This case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which unfortunately ruled on June 25th that the district map would be upheld. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that a number of Alabama’s district lines were unconstitutional because Black voters were packed into certain districts that diluted their collective political voice. The Legislature redrew most of Alabama’s voting districts to reduce racial polarization. This and all other valiant efforts to reduce political corruption and promote racial equity will have a big impact in the upcoming elections this November.

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Ailie interned with us at VOTE this summer. She is a student at Bard College.

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