By Woody Holton
Vol. 4, No. 1, 1981, pp. 17-22
The Southern state capitals have been filled in the last few months with computer tapes, over-sized maps, and print-outs of census data as legislators decide the boundaries of state legislative and Congressional districts according to 1980 population. For the first time since the start of the century all Southern legislatures will pass some kind of re-districting plan, a feat that may be blemished by continuing historical efforts to dilute black voting strength.
The job of reapportionment is not always easy. The Virginia legislature’s first efforts produced a plan with one district more than the state constitution permitted. In the face of a court challenge, the North Carolina General Assembly had second thoughts about its plan which legislative leaders had boasted was “the best we can do” early in the year. The N.C. legislators returned in October for a second special session.
Everywhere legislative reapportionment must meet the provisions of the state and federal constitutions, and in most Southern states black or Hispanic groups are challenging plans in court alleging constitutional violations. While state provisions may vary, federal courts usualy examine reapportionment plans by two standards: “one person—one vote” and the protection of minority voters.
As a result of pivotal Supreme Court cases in the early 1960s, the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment requires that as much as statistics permit, one legislator represent no fewer or no more residents than other legislators. Litigation surrounding “one person-one vote” emerged because many Southern rural Black Belt legislators had as little as one-half or one-third the population of urban and suburban legislators. Hence, the law now requires that the population of one legislative district with one representative equal as much as possible the ideal district where legislators represent the same number of people.
The courts’ protection of minority voters also stems from the Fourteenth Amendment. In the Bolden case in 1980, the Supreme Court held that legislative districts could not be designed with the purpose and effect of diluting black voters’ ability to choose responsive candidates. Before Bolden, some lower courts had held that the Fifteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution prohibited legislative districts which had the effect of diluting black voting strength regardless of purpose. The dilution of black voting strength is accomplished by several means, including use of large multi-member districts in which black voters are never able to favorably influence the outcome of elections.
The Voting Rights Act also establishes a standard for reapportionment in eight Southern states excluding Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas. In the covered states reapportionment plans must be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department under Section five of the Act before they are implemented. Justice is required to disapprove the plan if it determines that minorities’ votes will be diluted by the compostion or placement of districts.
While the state legislature passed a Congressional redistricting plan which some political observers say may have at least a “prayer’s chance” of holding up before the courts and the U.S. Justice Department, plans for the state house and senate were declared unconstitutional in a unanimous opinion of the Texas Supreme Court in September. The job of reapportionment has fallen to the special legislative re-districting board which Texas law created in the late 1940s. It must present a plan within 60 days. The board’s composed of Lt. Gov. William Hobby, State Attorney General Mark White, Comptroller Bob Bullock, Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong, and House Speaker William Clayton. All are Democrats although
each has different political constituencies.
The state Supreme Court’s decision held that the legislative plans violated the state constitution because the district lines unnecessarily cut across the boundaries of several counties. Although the state board’s new plan need not be approved by the legislature, it must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department and any state and federal courts in which it is challenged.
The lines of the Congressional plan in Texas are also under attack before a federal court in Tyler where a black minister charges that the reapportionment dilutes black and Hispanic voting strength. The Congressional plan was a victory for Republican Gov. William Clements who garnered enough legislative votes to endanger some Democratic Congressional incumbents.
0ne of the few places where reapportionment did not leave blood on the carpet, the Arkansas legislature and special state reapportionment commission established the new district lines before most states held special sessions. Since voters had turned down single-member districts in an election on the changes in the state constitution earlier, political coalitions of blacks and whites could not muster the clout to convince state officials to make any big changes in this decade’s reapportionment.
A special session of the Louisiana legislature will convene in November with the expectation that the fight over redistricting will be loud and fierce. The Legislative Black Caucus in Louisiana is preparing its own plans for some districts in the state house and senate as talk of blacks losing one or more legislators under the plan of the legislative leadership continues. The states’s Congressional delegation has virtually agreed on a re-districting plan, but it is not at all certain that the legislature will defer to the federal representatives. The chairman of the house re-districting committee, Jock Scott, is apparently supporting a plan that will give Rep. Gillis Long problems. Congresswoman Lindy Boggs’ district surrounding New Orleans should become majority black, according to some black political leaders. One state administrator who is working on developing the legislature’s plans, however, contends that a majority black Congressional district is difficult or impossible to draw around New Orleans. “Besides,” she said, “the legislature wouldn’t sit for that.”
In special session in September the state legislature turned down the Legislative Black Caucus’ proposal to create a 70 percent black district that included parts of the Mississippi Delta and metropolitan Jackson. Instead the legislature left most Congressional boundaries near their present lines.
The Delta is now represented by veteran Democrat David Bowen whose 1970 reapported district was 45 percent black. The legislature’s reapportionment plan now provides a black population of nearly 50 percent. Because the number of voting age blacks is considerably less than the total black population in most rural areas, black voters in the Delta will not be able to elect, by their own votes, a responsive candidate in the new plan.
Opponents of the Congressional plan included 26 black state legislators and five white legislators. The Caucus and black groups are preparing to ask Justice to disapprove the plan. A challenge in federal court is also likely.
The Mississippi legislature will return to Jackson to draw districts for the state house and senate. Working with the NAACP, a legal services coalition, and others, the Black Caucus is expected to introduce its own plans. Because of years of extensive litigation in federal court resulting in a new legislative reapportionment plan only in 1979, several Mississippians have been adding and subtracting figures for reapportionment for almost a decade.
The Tennessee legislature has created a new Congressional district because of increased population in the state and potential candidates for the new seat have begun to scramble. The state’s incumbent representatives, including Harold Ford of Memphis, one of only two black representatives in the South, will not face any apparent problems due to the new lines. One of the Republican incumbents, Robin Beard, is expected to run against Democratic senator Jim Sasser instead of seeking reelection. Among the candidates for the new Congressional seat is TVA Director Bob Clement.
When the Florida legislature convenes in early 1982, four new Congressional districts will be created because of increased population and, unless a new political coalition develops, the
state house and senate will continue to maintain large multimember districts. The redistricting for the congressional seats is somewhat unpredictable because several key state legislators are interested in becoming a new member of Congress. At the same time, the Democratically controlled legislature is expected to continue opposing single member districts in fear that the state Republicans would join blacks and Hispanics in gaining increased representation.
With hardly a rancorous word, North Carolina legislators redrew the boundaries for congressional seats in each of the state houses in August and quickly moved on to other business. By mid-September, blacks had filed suit in federal district court in Raleigh challenging all three reapportionment plans and contending that the state had failed to get approval of the 1967 state constitutional amendments that require legislative districts to follow county lines. The lawsuit claims that the state constitutional provision and the legislature’s lines create multi-member districts that dilute black voting strength.
Before even a hearing on procedural matters in court, state officials moved to backtrack. The state’s attorney general admitted that the 1967 amendments had not been submitted by forwarding them to Justice for review. In a special session on the budget, the legislature decided to reconvene in the last week of October to redraw the lines. Apparently, the state attorney general had also informed legislative leaders that the plans’ deviation from “one person—one vote” would not pass constitutional muster.
Earlier this year in short order the South Carolina legislature preserved the state senate as an all-white body and may have blocked any further gains of black voters in the lower house when it reapportioned. While the committee that drew up the re-districting plans held no open meetings before the legislature met, the final plans were introduced, debated, and adopted in less than seven days. “We didn’t know what hit us,” one black legislator commented.
The state legislative plans were submitted in September to the Justice Department with expected opposition from black legislators and groups.
Congressional reapportionment has not been so easy. For almost two months a conference committee tried to come up with a congressional plan which preserved South Carolina’s metropolitan areas—Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville—in separate Congressional districts. Both plans will likely stall black voters’ power at the ballot booth.
The Georgia General Assembly began a special session on reapportionment on August 24. It adjourned on September 18 amid loud cries from advocacy groups and black legislators that the plan is discriminatory and drawn with the clear intention of diluting minority voting strength and protecting white incumbents.
Before the session began, both House and Senate reapportionment committees had adopted formal guidelines including an agreement that any plan would comply with the Voting Rights Act and “one man—one vote” court cases. Each house had come to an earlier “gentleman’s agreement” that the final plan of each body would be approved by the other. Individual district plans also were kept confidential unless released by the legislators developing the plan. Hence the public did not often see a plan until the day it was voted on by a reapportionment committee. The final, complete House and Senate plans were not released to the public nor to all members of the General Assembly until the special session was underway.
At public and private meetings, community groups and black state legislators adamantly called for the creation of plans which would not dilute minority voting strength. The groups identified counties in House and Senate districts in Georgia where the black population was 40 percent or better and urban areas where black populations represent a substantial population.
The House and Senate adopted redistricting plans on August 27. The House plan included 28 single member districts with 50 percent or more black population and 2 countywide districts in Fulton which covers most of Atlanta. However, only 19 districts are proposed as 65 percent or more black, though there are presently 20 black House members. Because of the difference between total black population and voting age black population, the Justice Department considers a 65 percent black population necessary for a black voting majority.
In Fulton, the controversy revolved around the question of county-wide districts. Both the Fulton delegation and the House reapportionment committee approved a 19-member single district plan. However, during floor debate, Reps.
Grace Hamilton and John Greer, both from Atlanta, offered an amendment which created 17 single member districts and two countywide districts. Greer presently represents one of the three countywide Fulton districts.
The plan created eight 65 percent or more black districts and one district with between 50-60 percent black population. The 19-member single district plan included 10 black majority districts including nine with black populations over 65 percent. A similar 17-2 plan had been voted down by both the Fulton delegation and the House Reapportionment Committee.
The Fulton County delegation, with the largest number of black representatives, will have six black incumbents running against each other for three house seats if the proposed plan is implemented.
In DeKalb County in the Atlanta metro area, the committee and delegation struggled all summer over similar questions. Black Rep. Betty Clark offered to the committee a plan with five majority black districts. However, the DeKalb plan sent to the floor included only four majority black districts. Clark also offered unsuccessfully her plan as a floor amendment.
During the House debate, Rep. David Lucas offered a floor amendment to the Macon-Bibb County plan which would have created two predominantly black districts. It too was defeated with all the white delegates from Bibb voting against the amendment.
Rep. Billy Randall, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, offered several floor amendments aimed at lessening the dilution of minority voting strength. One of the Randall amendments would have resulted in three black districts in Chatham County (Savannah). This plan had been offered to the reapportionment committee by another member of the Caucus, Rep. Albert Scott of Savannah.
Randall also proposed several changes aimed at the rural Black Belt areas where no black legislators have been elected. One would have returned a district to its present black percentage. Although Randall pointed out that the committee plan for the Black Belt was intentionally discriminatory, the House approved it. Only the Hamilton/Greer floor amendment approving at-large districts for Fulton County was passed by the House.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a controversial plan developed by its majority leader, Thomas Allgood of Augusta. The plan includes eight districts with 50 percent or more black population, but three are less than 65 percent black. The Black Caucus members in the House offered their own Senate plan as a substitute to the Aligood plan. That plan included 11 black-majority districts (two in the Black Belt), and six districts with over 65 percent black population.
Perhaps Congressional redistricting drew the most controversy and excitement during the session. On September 17, the Georgia General Assembly approved a Congressional plan with a 57 percent black district in the Fulton County area. Members of the Black Caucus in both the House and the Senate objected loudly.
Julian Bond of Atlanta spoke vehemently against its passage in the Senate. Bond had sponsored in the Senate committee a plan with a 73 percent black Congressional district. The committee passed his plan, but it was amended on the floor of the Senate, becomeing a 69 percent black district. However, the House approved a Congressional plan which included only a 51 percent black Atlanta Congressional district. At present Georgia has ten Congressional districts and a black population of approximately twenty-seven percent. There has been no black member of Congress representing the state since Andrew Young resigned to become U.N. Ambassador. Young had been the first black Congressman in Georgia since Reconstruction.
The other controversial issue of Congressional redistricting involved splitting Gwinnett County. Suburban Gwinnett is the fastest growing county in Georgia and has had an increase in Republican voter turnout in the last few elections. Most efforts to split Gwinnett by the Senate were viewed in the press as an effort to protect Democratic Congressman Ed Jenkins. A conference committee working on the two plans reported back five times
before a compromise was reached late September 16. The Senate finally passed a plan with 57 percent black population after majority leader Ailgood, speaking against the plan and for the larger black population, released those committed to him to vote as they wished.
The House, which had always favored a smaller black population for the district, passed it the next day by a vote of 91 to 69. On the House floor Black Caucus members spoke against the plan, noting that it would dilute the voting strength of a half million blacks living in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Advocacy groups had held a news conference on the day that the House and Senate plans passed. The groups included representatives of Common Cause, ACLU, NAACP, and the League of Women Voters. They complained of the large number of multi-member districts in the House plan and the dilution of minority voting strength.
On September 18, the Black Caucus held a news conference objecting to all three plans. The head of the Caucus, Billy Randall, said, “The Assembly understood what it was doing and proceeded to intentionally deny to the black voters of this state the opportunity to elect representatives who would clearly reflect their views in Atlanta and in the nation’s capitol… We will take these objections to the Justice Department and to the courts. We will not be satisfied until equitable representation for the citizens of Georgia has been carried out…
On September 25, ten members of the Caucus journeyed to Washington to meet with the Justice Department. They took with them letters of objection to the reapportionment plans. Justice is expected to decide if the plans meet the standards of the Voting Rights Act by January.
The Alabama legislature convened on September 29th in special session to consider proposals to redraw the state’s House and Senate districts. The Legislature had redrawn the Congressional districts during an August special session. The plan has been forwarded to Justice for review under the Voting Rights Act.
Before the September session, reapportionment committee co-chairmen Sen. Lister Proctor of Sylacauga and Rep. Rick Manley of rural Demopolis steered the early stages of line-drawing, parcelling out regions to be handled by various committee members in private. The only public hearing on the plan was held on the morning of the second day of the session after the plan’s introduction. Civil rights and advocacy groups such as the NAACP, ACLU, Common Cause, Alabama Democratic Conference, and the League of Women Voters presented testimony denouncing the plan. Residents from Alabama’s Black Belt, black state legislators and other black elected officials also testified against the plan. The opponents protested the lack of public notice and opportunity to adequately study the proposal.
Witnesses observed the careful effort in “cracking” and “stacking” counties with the highest black population percentages to achieve nearly exact 55 percent black–45 percent white populations among the six Black Belt House districts. These districts are still presently represented by white legislators. By balancing the Black Belt districts, the plan assures that black voters in the area have no voice since 55 percent black population seldom constitutes a majority of blacks of voting age.
The plan also diluted black voting strength in Jefferson County where Birmingham sits, according to legislators and citizens who spoke. The plan pits two black legislators in the county against each other and reduces the number of black voters in another district. Predictions were made that in Jefferson County and the Black Belt the plan would eliminate three to five possible districts where blacks could elect responsive candidates.
At no time during the reapportionment process did Rep. Manley or Sen. Proctor make public either a state-wide map, racial composition data, or total population figures on the proposed districts. The committee bill passed both houses by wide margins with only verbal assurance to assembled lawmakers and observers that population totals were not outside the commonly-accepted limit of 10 percent deviation from “one person—one vote.” Access to racial information was denied on the grounds that the reapportionment committee members
and staff were completely ignorant of such data and had never taken any notice of the factor of race in designing the new districts.
One state-wide alternative was introduced by Michael Figures, a black state senator from Mobile. The Figures plan, drawn through a computer, differed from the Proctor-Manley plan by yielding fifteen House districts with over 65 percent black population and five such Senate districts. All had a deviation range of only 2 percent from the ideal population for a district. Proctor and Manley proposed only eleven House districts and two Senate seats with 65 percent or more black population. There are now 13 House districts and three Senate districts represented by black legislators, among 105 House and 35 Senate districts.
The Figures plan was rejected in short order although a few members such as Sen. Mac Parsons of Hueytown, mindful of the results of reapportionment efforts in Alabama over the past two decades, urged a closer examination. “With the low variance, it (Figures’ plan) will probably be the one the court adopts later on,” said Parsons.
In addition to Figures’ plan, several other alternatives were offered by members of the Black Caucus. While Proctor and Manley argued that the Jefferson County lines were unavoidable, Rep. Tony Harrison of Birmingham offered five amendments that increased or maintained black voting strength in Jefferson. All options were rejected.
The committee plan was passed by the House on October 8th, the sixth day of the special session. The vote was 75 to 22, with all 13 black House members voting “no.” All three black state senate members also voted against the plan.
The Legislature reconvened in October for any technical adjustments in the Proctor-Manley plan. Challenges to the plan before the U.S. Justice Department and the courts are expected