Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.
As even the Post article noted, the current Democratic court challenges to various districts around the country don’t amount to enough seats to tip the House in their direction even if they were all successful. But the goal is to set in place legal standards that would forbid states from lumping a large percentage of their African-American voters in to a few districts, leaving the rest dominated by white voters.
There’s no question that this practice has been a godsend for Republicans and a disaster for the Democrats. African-Americans are a huge part of the Democrats’ base throughout the country. In the south, they have become virtually their sole bulwark of support. Thus, grouping them together in a few districts has the effect of making the Democrats non-competitive everywhere else.
But what was left out of the Post article is the fact that this idea wasn’t invented in a backroom by some evil GOP genius bent on marginalizing blacks and empowering conservatives. Instead, it was more or less invented by liberal judges who interpreted the Voting Rights Act as mandating not just the right of everyone to vote but the creation of an electoral environment in which minorities could be set up to succeed.
The creation of a raft of these majority-minority districts took place after the 1990 census and the result was the beginning of the end of a 60-year-period of Democratic dominance in the House that stretched from the Great Depression to the Clinton presidency. It was accomplished by creating bizarre districts that ignored traditional boundaries as well as geography. These districts gave new meaning to the term gerrymandering but they accomplished exactly what the courts intended for them to do. The numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics in the House grew exponentially. It was only after this process began that some on both the left and the right realized that the fallout from the new districts was the end of many competitive districts as well as the completion of a long period of decline for the Democrats in the south.
It’s understandable if Democrats now want to rethink this situation since it more or less dooms them to permanent minority status in the House. But if they want to change it, they need to be careful of the consequences.
For the past few years, liberals have been waxing lyrical about the perfidy of Republican gerrymandering of districts. The fact that in states where Democrats have control of the legislature and the governor’s seat they do the same thing hasn’t deterred them from claiming that this is a sin unique to the GOP. But hypocrisy aside, it appears that a lot of them seem to have not thought through what would happen if this type of gerrymandering were eliminated.
Ending majority-minority district will help the Democrats across the board. But it will set them up for an epic confrontation with their most loyal voters and that group’s political leaders. There is simply no way that the Congressional Black Caucus will ever consent to their numbers being decimated merely to help the Democratic Party.
Don’t bet on African Americans or Hispanics sitting back and merely letting their party eliminate so many of their seats. If they have to, they will make alliances with Republicans in the legislatures to ensure that their districts survive. The bottom line is that when it comes to the majority-minority districts that are killing the Democrats, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Whether by the Republicans committing some form of political suicide or by a sea change in the political environment, the Democrats could eventually win back the House. But they will not do on the backs of blacks or by eliminating their racial redistricting problem.