The Race Toward Reapportionment
Vol. 4, No. 3, 1982, pp. 18-24
Billboards and television commercials of earnest faces and subdued colors are inviting many Southerners already to think about the virtues of candidates for the November elections. Back in the halls of the state capitols in almost half the Southern states, however, politicians face the prospects of computer runs, cross-examinations, and twilight negotiations in order to draw the lines that will decide what are the congressional and state legislative districts for the fall.
Because of the delay in the final redistricting, especially in the Deep South, the federal courts will be deciding in the next few weeks if they must order special redistricting plans in order to assure that elections go forward later this year. White state officials have been quick to lay the blame for the failure to produce a reapportionment plan on the courts or the U.S. Justice Department. “The bureaucrats in Washington,” is a phrase that begins many private conversations throughout the region in legislative chambers and state election offices. One state official in North Carolina sounded more like a former governor of Mississippi when he called the decision of the Justice Department to object to a North Carolina reapportionment plan “obscene and asinine.”
Black state legislators in the South see it another way. State Representative Jerome Tucker said of the rejection of Alabama’s plan in early May: “I anticipated the plan would be rejected. I look at it as a failure of the Alabama legislature to reapportion itself fairly.” In Georgia, where the state decided to appeal a Justice Department decision disapproving of its congressional plan, State Rep. Billy Randall of Macon, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said that the delay in holding primary elections could have been avoided if the state had been willing to correct the mistakes which Justice identified.
While reapportionment is the politics of pencils, calculators, and computer printouts, it is also at bottom the process by which fundamental changes are made in the distribution of political power, and individual political fortunes rise and fall according to the lines that are drawn. This democratic exercise presents more convincing evidence that in Southern politics race as an issue remains king. The examples of relentless opposition to creating any district that permit black voters to have a powerful voice in electing representatives is staggering when added together from across the South.
In Virginia, the General Assembly met more than three times in special session considering dozens of reapportionment plans over twelve months before it was forced to permit three additional black majority general assembly districts. Of a total of 140 members, black voters will control at most the election of only seven delegates to the legislature for the next decade.
The North Carolina legislature also convened in three special sessions to adopt four redistricting plans before it decided it must add three districts where blacks may be able to control the elections for representatives to the general assembly. In February, the North Carolina legislature refused to create anything more than a fifty-one percent majority-black district in the face of advice from its lawyers and the state research officer that the plan was unlawful and that another special session would be required. Their lawyer advised them to add four or five percentage points to one senate district to forego another round of reapportionment. Yet, five more percentage points of black population in one northeastern district was too much for the general assembly to do willingly.
In South Carolina, the all-white state senate has held off redistricting in the hopes that Congress would weaken the Voting Rights Act and thus the pressures to draw districts that will give black voters a chance to elect at least one state senator. In neighboring Georgia, state lawyers are appealing a ruling that its plan for congressional redistricting was discriminatory in the face of verified comments from the chief opponent of a majority black congressional district that he would not permit “a nigger district.”
For several days in May in Alabama the state legislature ran the high risk of jeopardizing its entire reapportionment plan by reducing one rural south Alabama district from sixty-five to sixty percent black because the incumbent white legislator said that he simply could not get elected with that many blacks in his district.
In Mississippi, the legislature turned away efforts to have a majority-black district in one of five congressional seats in a state where almost two of five are black. In Louisiana, the governor vetoed a majority-black congres-
sional district that the legislature had first adopted, and then the legislature turned around in the redistricting of its own houses and reduced by one-third the number of majority-black legislative districts in New Orleans despite a rise in the percentage of blacks in that part of the state.
In Florida, Texas, and Tennessee–all states receiving additional congressional seats for the 1980s–the state legislatures refused to give serious consideration to creating districts with a majority of black or Hispanic population.
If the expenses of lawyers and special sessions of the legislatures were added into the cost of holding some of the special primaries that may be required, the price of doggedly opposing black influence in Southern reapportionment may reach as high as five million dollars before the last penny is spent in 1982. It’s an intimidating cost, especially in these days of shrinking state budgets.
Although these facts merely highlight the systematic efforts to retard black voting strength, white Democrats continue to debunk reapportionment as only a tool for Republicans who are using blacks to front for their partisan gains. Also, some white politicians truly believe that it is bad politics for blacks’ own self interests to concentrate their influence as a majority of voters in a limited number of legislative districts when they could make up a substantial–but not a majority–percentage of several more districts.
Both arguments ignore the continuing existence of racial “bloc” voting throughout the South. In a recent study in Mississippi, for example, one political statistician found that almost ninety percent of the white voters m the state in local elections will vote only for white candidates and that a very large percentage has a pattern of voting only for white candidates who are not allied with black organizations. In such circumstances, which are not unusual throughout the South in most local elections, black voters often must have a controlling vote if they are to have a meaningful voice.
Because the number of legislators elected by black. votes continues to be very limited, the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution–more than political horsetrading–remain the major protections for the rights of black voters. The Act provides that jurisdictions in six Southern states and forty counties in North Carolina must file with the U.S. Department of Justice any change in voting before that change is implemented. These changes, including redistricting, are examined by Justice to decide if they will have a discriminatory effect or purpose. If so, the changes cannot be implemented.
A local or state government covered under this pre-clearance provision may appeal to the federal district court in Washington where a panel of three judges is convened to hear the case. In turn, black citizens are also able to file suit in local Southern federal courts if they believe that redistricting plans violate the U.S. Constitution.
In the following summaries of most Southern states, a few case studies are presented in order to illustrate the anatomy of reapportionment in the region, as it has developed recently.
In perhaps its most comprehensive objection to a state reapportionment plan to date, the Justice Department rejected the Alabama Legislature’s proposals in early May. Justice found that Alabama had diluted black voting strength in Birmingham, Mobile, and all urban areas “with current black populations of over twenty-five percent and in the rural Black Belt counties.”
The decision set in motion a month of backroom politics and agile legal efforts to keep the federal courts out of Alabama redistricting.
In Birmingham, the proposed plan reduced the number of districts with majority-black populations from seven to six. It also reduced the influence of black voters in one of the remaining six districts despite an increase in the percentage of the black population in those parts of the metropolitan area. In Mobile and Montgomery, Justice found that the state used almost contradictory means of redistricting in order to dilute in both places the voting strength of blacks in senate districts. The redistricting of the Black Belt also evidenced voting discrimination since Justice found that the legislature had shaved off the percentage of blacks in order to reduce from five to one the number of house districts with a majority of blacks of voting age. Even in the one remaining district the majority of voting-age blacks was reduced somewhat.
Word of Justice’s actions spread quickly among state political leaders in Montgomery but reaction was comparatively mild in a capital where an Alabama governor in past years had suggested after an adverse federal court decision that the judge ought to have a “barbed wire enema.” Tempered by the experience of the last fight in Alabama over reapportionment, which brought a court order tripling the number of majority-black legislative districts, the cochairman of the reapportionment committee and probably next year’s speaker of the house, veteran state Rep. Rick Manley, moved quickly to figure out the minimal changes in the original plan that Justice would approve and his colleagues would accept.
Manley realized that a three judge federal panel sat in the background and might step in to take over reapportionment in Alabama if a plan was not adopted that could get Justice’s approval in time for candidates to file for primary elections in September. On that court, convened because of a suit by black legislators and citizens, was Frank Johnson, the judge who had ordered the sweeping reapportionment in the 1970s; Myron Thompson, a black appointee of the Carter administration who once worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Education Association: and Truman Hobbs, a conservative who had nonetheless supported the wing of the state democratic party that opposed George Wallace in times past.
As a white Black Belt politician, Manley was especially concerned about reshaping his own district, presently sixty-two percent black, and others in that part of rural, south Alabama. Birmingham also presented a major political problem since any remedy of Justice’s objections
would probably mean running two or more white incumbents against one another. Indeed, to keep the court out of reapportionment, Manley had to orchestrate the drafting and adoption of the legislative plan that would affect more than twenty legislative districts and that could be approved by Justice by early June.
Meeting and telephone calls began to multiply. Manley and lawyers for the state met with Justice officials in Washington one day during the week of May 7 and the next day were back in Montgomery for a meeting with lawyers for the black plaintiffs challenging the reapportionment in federal court. Apparently, Manley told Justice, legislators and the plaintiffs’ lawyers that he was open for any suggestions and implied that he had no new plan in mind. Therefore, he would be willing to let them help shape any new plan for the legislature. It was a useful–if not entirely truthful–strategy since it kept his white colleagues believing that they would not be betrayed and told the black legislators that they might be able to get what they really wanted from him. In truth, Manley had statisticians and computers devising several options in Birmingham, the Black Belt, and Mobile, where he thought the major problems lay. When the special session was convened on Monday, May 24th, Manley had worked out his plan.
In the new plan, the percentage of blacks in the majority of black senate districts in Mobile was increased, as were the numbers of voting-age blacks in the Black Belt house districts. Further, the Manley plan created one additional majority-black house district in Birmingham and pitted two white incumbents in the same house district. Although white legislators in Birmingham grumbled and blacks realized that the proposals failed to meet all their concerns, the plan actually jeopardized the political future of no more than five white incumbents and did increase the number of majority-black districts.
Manley was taking no chances in permitting opposition to build too quickly. Claiming computer problems, Manley’s reapportionment committee withheld the details of the plan from most legislators until the session was already underway. These convenient “technical” problems kept the endangered legislators from rallying support around specific changes and added pressure on the other legislators to adopt the plan and go home. The alternative, Manley kept reminding them in public and in private, was to fail to pass a plan and turn the job over to Justice and the federal courts.
While not visible in the map-drawing, speaker of the house Joe McCorquodale also wanted a quick, tidy session. A declared candidate for governor, McCorquodale didn’t want to open himself up to charges of wasting taxpayers’ money on long, expensive special sessions that didn’t accomplish anything. Also, while not wanting to offend black legislators whom he was still courting, he certainly did not want any hand in twisting the arms of white legislators from the Black Belt where he resides and whom he’ll depend on in the November election.
In the first day of the session Manley and his cochairman Lister Hill Proctor claimed that no amendment could be made to their plan if it was to be approved by Justice. Black legislators countered that the plan had to be amended to do more in protecting the voting strength of blacks if it was to pass muster at Justice. Supporting their view, black state Sen. Michael Figures presented an alternative plan that would create additional black majority senate districts in Montgomery and the Black Belt while increasing the black population in five house districts in the Black Belt–including Manley’s own district. Other black leaders also voiced disappointment with Manley’s plan at a public hearing on Tuesday, May 25th. Wendell Paris of Sumter County said that the Black Belt house districts were “gerrymandered to make it so black people can’t be elected.”
Leaving nothing to chance, Manley quickly had the Figures plan analyzed and circulated a list to his colleagues showing that a rather large number of incumbents would be pitted against one another. Manley’s analysis created a stir even in the Legislative Black Caucus since it showed that the Figures plan, due to a mistake in the computer tabulation, placed two incumbent black legislators from Mobile in the same district.
Despite the attraction of the Manley-Proctor plan to most legislators, who would after all remain unharmed by the proposal, Manley was unable to hold all of his white colleagues in line. Black Belt state representative Leigh Peg ~es, who had defeated his black opponent by less than 250 votes in the last election, successfully convinced the house to reduce the black percentage in his district in the Manley plan from 65.9 percent black to 60.4 percent. In debate, Manley warned his colleagues once more that the change would jeopardize the whole plan and let the federal courts determine what everyone’s district lines would be. But, whites in the House were moved by Pegues’ emotional reminder: “I can’t win with 65.9 percent blacks in my district.” After his plea, they approved Pegues’ amendments and the Manley plan over the objection of blacks.
That Wednesday night, Manley apparently decided that he should begin to court the black legislators’ support for a plan that gave them something in return for accepting Pegues’ needs somehow. If the House kept Pegues’ changes, the plan might get through Justice if it had the support of all black legislators. Since the senate had followed Proctor’s instructions and passed the exact Manley plan, Manley circulated a proposal to black legislators that gave them something in the senate. First he assured some of the members of the Black Caucus that Pegues’ amendments would not stand precisely as they were. But, if the Caucus could live with a little less in the Black Belt, he would be willing to place into his own plan a majority-black senate district in Montgomery. The offer was tempting and caused spirited debate. Some Caucus members thought that Justice disapproval of a plan without a substantial black majority district in Montgomery was a sure thing. So there was nothing to negotiate over. Others had doubts.
As the Caucus considered its political and legal strategies, Manley and Proctor were busy polling senators on their reaction to possible changes in the senate districts which an agreement with the Caucus might cause. They were also conferring with state’s attorneys about the Justice Department lawyers’ inclinations on the different options. Apparently, news from both lines of inquiry indicated that the Pegues’ amendments would kill the pla[unclear] Justice and that most white senators weren’t willing to add another black majority district to make up for short-
comings in the Black Belt.
According to one lobbyist in Montgomery, McCorquodale was in fact responsible for the initial success of the Pegues’ amendments. He refused to persuade Pegues to l accede to the Manley plan in fear that Pegues would desert his gubernatorial campaign. In absence of Speaker McCorquodale’s strong arm, Pegues could not be brought in line.
Unable to pressure Pegues or to get agreements, Manley called the Caucus late Wednesday night and withdrew his proposal. “It won’t fly,” Manley said. No longer considering a compromise, the Caucus unanimously decided to oppose any plan that didn’t remove the Pegues’ amendments and did not create a substantial majority-black senate district in Montgomery and the Black Belt.
Manley’s impasse was broken when Pegues agreed in a Wednesday twilight conversation, that if given an opportunity to present his case for a sixty percent majority-black district directly to the Justice Department, he would not jeopardize the whole legislative plan for the sake of “fairness to me” if Justice rejected his proposal. With that promise, a complicated arrangement was then designed with the cooperation of McCorquodale and Governor Fob James.
The plan called for the house judiciary committee–which Manley chairs–to take up the senate-approved, original Manley plan on Thursday, May 27. It would be reported to the house floor on Friday. This procedural move was necessary since Manley didn’t want to ask house members to override directly their own vote to approve Pegues’ amendments. After all, legislators have their pride. The strategy also allowed Manley to keep the issue clear and simple: the house should vote only once to approve the full plan and vote against all amendments including those from disgruntled white and black legislators. In this way, Manley thought he could cast the actions of the house before Justice as a good faith effort to meet it’s objections while turning away “excessive” proposals from both white and black legislators.
To satisfy Pegues, Manley arranged for the endangered legislator to go to Washington after the house had approved the Manley plan and to meet with Justice officials to argue his case for a sixty percent black district. The legislature would not adjourn until Tuesday so that if Justice approved Pegues’ sixty percent black district, an executive or legislative amendment could be made to reinstate it. If Justice failed to approve it, the original Manley plan would be law and Gov. James would sign it.
The script for this compromise was followed carefully. The legislature met and, over the objections of some disgruntled whites and the Black Legislative Caucus, approved the original Manley plan. On the weekend, Pegues flew to Washington and returned for the session on Tuesday, June 1. On the floor the legislator plaintively admitted, “If my amendment alone went on the bill, it would adversely affect it.” He had failed to convince Justice.
Both houses quickly confirmed the Manley plan with dissenting votes coming only from black legislators who didn’t think the plan went far enough in remedying the efforts of the old plan and from a handful of whites who thought it went too far or who just didn’t like the way Manley or Justice had treated them.
With final legislative action, activities shifted from Montgomery to Washington and the Justice Department. Manley, Proctor, and state lawyers flew to Washington immediately after the legislative adjournment to put their case before the U.S. Assistant Attorney General. A delegation of the Legislative Black Caucus followed in the same week to ask for an objection. On Tuesday, June 8th, Justice issued a letter approving most of the Manley plan. Full arguments before the federal court will come late in June or July.
With most counties in the state not covered by the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance section, Florida has settled the primary issues of reapportioning its congressional and state legislative districts.
With the addition of four congressional districts in the state, blacks had hoped vainly for a majority-black congressional district and some gains in creating single-member, majority-black districts in the state senate and house. Putting aside those concerns, the Florida legislators saw the most bitter fight between the interests of Republicans and Democrats and among several leading state legislators who have eyed one of the new congressional seats for their own political future.
After the Justice Department’s decision in April to approve Georgia’s state legislative reapportionment plan while rejecting the congressional one, the state’s new attorney general, Michael Bowers, led the way in appealing the decision of Justice to the federal courts in Washington. Assuring other state officials and congressmen that the court appeal would be won in time to hold elections as usual, Bowers got a vote of confidence from both houses of the Georgia General Assembly, the Lt. Governor, and the Governor.
The state argues that Justice’s rejection of a fifty-seven percent black-populated congressional district in the Atlanta area misapplies the Voting Rights Act. The district is already fifty percent black and the state’s proposal would have increased the number of blacks in the district by seven percentage points. Bowers says that Justice is attempting to require Georgia’s legislature to make a guaranteed black seat of the Fifth Congressional District. The Democratic incumbent of the Fourth District, Elliott Levitas, adds that Justice is attempting to define him out of office by creating a district with a Republican majority.
The Justice Department’s decision to disapprove the fifty-seven percent majority-black district indicated that the state failed to rebut evidence that “the line between districts number four and five were drawn to minimize
the voting strength” of blacks in that area. U.S. Assistant c Attorney General Bradford Reynolds reminded Bowers that the state senate had adopted the plan sponsored by black state Sen. Julian Bond to create a sixty-nine percent majority-black congressional district. Reynolds also noted that Georgia had failed to rebut evidence that the Bond plan was rejected (after several days of negotiations between the two houses of the General Assembly) largely because of the state House of Representatives’ determination not to permit black voters too much power at the polls in any congressional district. (See SOUTHERN CHANGES, April, 1982).
Once Bowers had filed the state’s appeal in Washington, several black state legislators and citizens from Atlanta intervened to support Justice’s objection. Intervenors claimed that the proposed fifty-seven percent black district not only has a discriminatory purpose but also a discriminatory effect on black voting strength. The trial starts June 28 and may last ten or fifteen days. A decision by the federal court could come as late as the end of July.
If Justice’s actions are upheld, the federal courts will likely take over the job of drawing an interim congressional plan for the primary and general elections this year in order to assure that the elections are held.
Because time is running out, the state’s attorney general attempted in May to have Georgia’s secretary of state receive filing papers from congressional candidates for the existing districts. The federal district court in Washington, however, blocked that attempt after the intervenors’ lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the state should not be allowed to proceed under congressional plans that are unlawful. ACLU lawyer Laughlin McDonald told the court that the state should not be permitted to use a congressional plan until it had adopted one that was approved by Justice and the courts. The court agreed and barred the state from proceeding with the existing congressional districts.
Pretrial discovery in the case indicates that key legislative leaders in the general assembly were in fact working to keep black voters out of control in any congressional district. Black and white state legislators have stated in sworn testimony that the primary discussion in the legislature on congressional redistricting was whether a “rigger” district would be created. The chairman of the lower house’s reapportionment committee, Joe Mack Wilson, has stated, “The only thing worse than a ‘rigger’ district is a Republican district.”
Such revelations during discovery may have caused the state lawyers to develop a highly unusual and possibly unethical practice of keeping clients and the state’s witnesses under control during testimony. Recently it was uncovered that a lawyer in the state attorney general’s office had arranged a system of tapping a state legislator’s foot under the table during depositions whenever the lawyer believed that the legislator’s testimony was “getting out of control.”
Both Justice and the intervenors have continued to stress that the proposed district which Justice rejected may have had a majority-black population but had a “fifty-four percent white voter registration.” Also, lawyers have pointed out that while legislators say they objected to Bond’s proposed district because it unnecessarily crossed county lines and divided the metropolitan area, the proposed, unsuccessful congressional district crossed county lines just as much.
As state officials began leaving their offices in Baton Rouge for Memorial Day weekend, Justice Department lawyers in Washington informed the state’s attorney general by telephone that the Louisiana state redistricting plan had been rejected under the Voting Rights Act.
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus and civil rights leaders i n New Orleans had petitioned Justice earlier to turn down the redistricting passed by the legislature late last year. They contend that the proposed plan is racially discriminatory, especially in New Orleans where the number of majority-white districts increased from seven to eight. This rearrangement was proposed despite an increase in the percentage of blacks in New Orleans. Black leaders pointed out that, statewide, the number of black majority districts would have been decreased from seventeen to fourteen if the legislature’s plans had been approved by Justice.
One alternative plan which the Black Caucus may present soon to the legislature when it takes up reapportionment again would provide for twenty majority-black house districts across the state.
Federal courts in Mississippi and Washington will decide in the next several weeks if the poorest state in the nation, with almost a forty percent black population, will have one of five congressional districts with a majority of black voters.
The possibility of a black congressional district was rejected by the Mississippi Legislature late last year when it turned down a plan by black state Sen. Henry J. Kirksey of Jackson who proposed a sixty-five percent majority-black congressional district that centered in the state’s Delta region. On March 30 the Justice Department objected to the legislative plan which created a forty-eight percent black district that ran across the midsection of Mississippi from the Delta on the west to the Alabama border on the east and a forty-five percept black district in the southwestern corner.
In disapproving the congressional plan, Justice noted that the heavily black-populated Delta had been split into congressional districts shortly after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed in order to break up black Mississippians’ strongest voting power. Justice found, that in drafting reapportionment lines in 1981, Mississippi state officials had failed to show that the rejection of alternative proposals such as Senator Kirksey’s was not racially motivated.
By the second week of April, Mississippi had filed an
appeal of Justice’s decision in federal court in Washington and retained Jerris Leonard, the lawyer also handling North Carolina’s redistricting case, to present their claims that a change from an existing forty-five percent black district in the Delta to a forty-seven percent black district was not racially discriminatory. According to local press reports, Mississippi also set aside a quartet of a million dollars in order to allow its lawyers to press their case.
A few days later, twelve blacks filed suit in federal court in Greenville asking that a three-judge panel prohibit the state from using the 1981 congressional plan which Justice rejected and implement instead an interim plan with a sixty-five percent majority black Delta district for elections this year. State officials apparently had hoped to win their appeal in Washington or to be permitted to use a version of their 1981 reapportionment in the June 1 primaries; however, the court did not permit its use and instead asked for oral arguments and briefs in order to make a decision on what plan could be used this year.
Blacks and some white liberals in Mississippi are also split politically on the issue of a black Delta district. Whites fear that the creation of a Delta district will take so many blacks from other areas that Mississippi would have “one friendly black face and four hostile Republicans” in its five-member congressional delegation. Blacks respond wistfully that they must have missed something in the last thirty years of Mississippi politics since they have not been able to find all those white responsive, sympathetic Democrats which such an argument assumes.
While the Greenville court is expected to rule soon, both sides in the litigation promise an appeal, and the final shape of the Delta district for the November elections this year may not be decided until late July.
Never in its history has the North Carolina legislature faced such persisting problems in reapportioning its own houses. The general assembly has already convened four times to draw district lines. While the dispute has now been settled in Washington and the Justice Department, a federal court in Raleigh will decide later in the summer if the state must make a fifth effort.
The latest special session on reapportionment came in late April. The legislature convened after Justice objected for the third time to both the house and senate lines. In its letter of objection, Justice found that a 51.3 percent majority-black senate district in the northeastern part of the state continued to dilute black voting strength in an area where a 61.2 percent black district had been proposed by the N.C. Association of Black Lawyers. In the house plan, Justice objected to the continued submerging of black voters in Fayetteville in a large, multi-member district of white voters. In a county where five representatives sit in the lower house, the General Assembly had proposed a district which it claimed contained “eighty-four percent majority of black registered voters.” In fact, the district of almost fifty thousand people had less than four thousand registered voters on the books because most of the residents were military families stationed at nearby Ft. Bragg. Justice accepted the arguments of the black plaintiffs who had challenged the reapportionment in federal court that this majority-black district was an illusion at best.
Because candidates’ filing dates were scheduled to begin in May, North Carolina state officials moved quickly when Justice’s actions became known. After Jerris Leonard, the state’s Washington counsel and former assistant attorney general under Nixon, advised his clients that Justice’s objections could be met with only minor changes, the legislature was called into special session. Within-three days the General Assembly had approved an increase of four percentage points in the black population of the northeastern senate district; up to 55.1 percent. In Fayetteville, a new single-member district was carved out of both the Ft. Bragg area and some of the black-populated parts of the City.
Before the General Assembly adjourned, rumors spread that U.S. Assistant Attorney General Bradford Reynolds had approved, by telephone, the new plan with its two minor changes. The official approval of the plan on April 30th, less than two days after the legislature’s adjournment, seemed to confirm the scuttlebutt.
Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) who represent black plaintiffs in the Raleigh suit criticize Justice’s decision as providing too little protection for black voters. They point out that the fifty-five percent black senate district has less than a majority of blacks of voting-age population and that black registration is probably closer to forty-three percent. They also argue that while the Cumberland County house district may have a majority of registered black voters, it does not have a majority of potential black voters.
Despite Justice’s approval, the district lines for the legislature are not yet settled. LDF lawyers contend that the legislature’s failure to create single-member districts in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham, where several majority black districts could be created. will be declared unconstitutional by the federal court when the issue comes to trial in the summer or fall. Because North Carolina has only forty of its one hundred counties covered by the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the legislature’s redistricting of the major urban centers were not reviewed by Justice. Legal. observers believe that Justice may intervene in the federal suit in Raleigh on the side of black plaintiffs to help challenge the redistricting of the urban centers since they could not review it under the preclearance provisions.
As in other Southern states, several groups are in court fighting reapportionment. State Republicans have had their case consolidated with the Raleigh lawsuit. They are challenging as unlawful all multi-member districts throughout the state. At the same time, white citizens in Wake County–near the city of Winston-Salem–are suing the state because it created a single-member district that split parts of Wake into different legislative districts.
With Justice’s approval, North Carolina officials have gone forward with their elections for the fall. Yet,
depending on the future evidence presented in the federal court, those plans may be only the fifth edition in the long run of redistricting in the state.
After extensive negotiations between the Justice Department lawyers and State Representative Robert Shebeen, the redistricting of the South Carolina house came to an end in April although the state senate has yet to take up its own reapportionment.
Shebeen, the chairman of the state house judiciary committee, came up with a revised plan after Justice objected to an earlier redistricting. Shuttling back and forth from Washington for almost four weeks, the South Carolina lawmaker came up with an acceptable plan that created twenty-six majority-black house districts, two more than presently exist. The gains are in majority-black districts in Richmond County surrounding Columbia and in Florence.
While primary elections proceeded on schedule, the biggest battle in line-drawing may lie ahead. The state senate has sixteen multi-member districts which elect up to five members each. The Legislative Black Caucus, none of whose members sit in the all-white state senate, are urging a single-member district plan that would give black voters a better opportunity to have their vote count.
Primary elections were held in Texas in early May and June under redistricting plans which federal courts had ordered for 1982. Before the next congressional elections, however, the legislature must return to Austin to draw up at least four new congressional districts around Dallas and may choose to remap the entire state.
Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court went to the wire as the primary election of May 1 approached. The decision of a three-judge federal court panel in Texas was overturned once by the Supreme Court in early April because the lower court had gone too far in redrawing too many congressional districts. In April the lower court acted quickly and revised its plan which the Supreme Court refused to overturn.
Hispanic groups in Texas were especially disappointed in the redistricting since they had expected a majority district in Congress and substantial additions in both the state senate and house in southwest Texas.
On April Fool’s Day, the Virginia General Assembly reluctantly met in special session and ended more than a year of entanglements over redistricting by creating three additional majority-black districts in the lower house.
Civil rights and civil liberties groups who had fought the state plan before the Justice Department and the courts expressed almost complete satisfaction of the new plan. “We’ve achieved what we set out to do,” said Henry Marsh, black mayor of Richmond and lawyer for the state NAACP. Judy Goldberg of the Virginia ACLU echoed the sentiment by calling the plan a “99.5 percent victory.” After a federal court and Justice had given the state delegates three opportunities to draw lawful lines, the General Assembly acknowledged that its April session was its last chance to keep the courts out of redistricting.
While the new reapportionment adds probably three districts where blacks may be able to elect candidates Virginia presently has only four blacks among the 140 members of the House and Senate. One in five of the state’s population is black.
While black leaders and civil rights groups are pleased, white Democrats claim that the reapportionment does more for Republicans than for blacks. Calling reapportionment a “ghettoizing” of blacks and a promotion of Republican districts, these Democrats argue that the next General Assembly will be more hostile to black interests. Most black leaders find the claims unpersuasive.
This report was prepared by the staff of the Southern Regional Council