Vol. 4, No. 6, 1982, pp. 20-24
Reapportionment moved into the courtrooms across the South during the summer as federal judges were deluged with petitions and prayers for relief from lawyers of civil rights groups attempting to halt primary elections which they charged were to be held under discriminatory districts. Despite the lawyers’ complete lack of success, November elections bring a bumper crop of new minority elected officials in the state legislatures and promise the election of two additional black members of Congress from the South–doubling the present number–by the middle of the decade.
In six Southern states, federal courts have jurisdiction over congressional or state legislative reapportionment which will be decided finally by the end of 1983. In some instances, such as Alabama and Texas, the courts may order early elections if the plans which the Justice Department and the courts approve differ substantially from those which were implemented temporarily for the 1982 elections. In other states such as Virginia and Georgia the dust is settled and the district lines have now been set in place for the remainder of the decade.
While a federal court has reviewed reapportionment plans in every Southern state, the impetus for improvements in representation for blacks and Hispanics has come from the Voting Rights Act and its provision that all voting changes including redistricting be examined by the Justice Department to decide if they have a discriminatory effect or purpose. Incumbent minority legislators have also played a critical role in creating districts where black or Hispanic voters have a controlling vote.
In Georgia, for example, a sixty-five percent black district would never have been created were it not for the wily politicking of state senator Jul fan Bond who in acts of political horsetrading was able to convince his colleagues to adopt a sixty-nine percent black district in Atlanta. It was the senate’s adoption of the Bond plan and the plan’s subsequent rejection by the state house which led to the confrontation that evidenced the racial intent of
legislators such as Joe Mack Wilson, Chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee, who observed that “the only thing worse than a ‘nigger’ district is a Republican district.”
In Florida, the push for single-member districts did not even have the threat of rejection by the Justice Department or the courts. Aided by others, including the Florida Governor, black and Hispanic members of the legislature worked at building a coalition of support for a single-member district plan for both the house and the senate. In South Carol in a the legislative black caucus was instrumental in securing the addition of two majority black districts in that state’s plan, and in Alabama most of the changes which prompted the election of new black members were required by the Justice Department only after they had been proposed in special legislative sessions by members of the black caucus.
So far the federal courts have not been very hospitable to the claims of black plaintiffs, especially when proposed plans have cleared the administrative review of the Justice Department. In Virginia, the federal court found only that the legislative plans violated the principle of one-person, one-vote and did not hold that the plans diluted black voting strength in an unlawful manner. In South Carolina the three-judge federal court has turned away the claims of black plaintiffs and in Mississippi none of the congressional districts ordered by the court have a majority of black voters. To date the federal court in Alabama has not required a plan providing for increased black voting strength beyond what the Justice Department has demanded. The only federal court that has required the creation of a voting district for congressional or legislative races in the South with a majority of black voters has been the federal court in Washington which in effect sustained the decisions of the Justice Department.
In the first six monthsofl983,mostofthependingcases on state reapportionment will be decided by the court. Then, probably, only appeals to the Supreme Court will remain. The following summaries set the state for that final chapter and provide an outline on the effects of reapportionment of state legislatures and congressional seats in the South.
Under a temporary redistricting plan ordered by a federal court, the September primaries in Alabama fueled hopes of gains for blacks in the state legislature. Among the significant victories were house seats in Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, Perry, and Dallas counties. A black woman, Pat Davis was elected to a fifty-three percent black house seat in Birmingham; James Thomas and Jenkins Bryant, Sr., were the victors of the Democratic primary for the house seats in the Black Belt; and Bryant Melton won a house seat in Tuscaloosa.
All but two black incumbents in the Alabama House were reelected. In one race the victory of a black challenger, John Rogers, is presently under court challenge by incumbent black Rep. Ronald Jackson who lost by thirty-three votes in an election where absentee ballots were found two to three days later in a car trunk and in the office of the Jefferson County sheriff. All three incumbent black senators were reelected.
The reapportionment issue in Alabama remains in controversy. Negotiations continue between the plaintiffs and the state’s lawyers working on the law suit challenging Alabama’s plan in federal court. By court mandate the legislature will be required to redistrict by March, 1983, and another election for state legislators could follow as early as the fall of 1983. The new plan will have to meet approval with both the Justice Department and three federal judges sitting in Montgomery.
In a Southern state where the courts have not been involved in state reapportionment, minorities in Florida may make major gains in the next decade in the state legislature as a result of this year’s redistricting. For the first time in the state’s history, the legislature adopted single-member districts and the results of the October 5th primary showed several victories for black and Hispanic candidates.
For the first time in this century blacks will be represented in the Florida Senate. Carrie Meeks, a black legislator from Miami has been elected, without opposition, in a district with more than sixty-five percent black population and state Rep. Arnett Girardeau, a black from Jacksonville, won over a white opponent to become the Democratic nominee for another senate seat. Girardeau’s district is forty-nine percent black. Blacks also were winners in eleven house seats in Democratic primaries and in two Republican primaries around the state in October. Seven of the black Democrats who won had no opposition on November 2 Jefferson Reaves, James Burke, and Willie Logan from Miami; James Hargrave of Tampa; Al Lawson of Tallahassee; Corrine Brown and incumbent John Thomas of Jacksonville. Only five blacks now sit in the Florida legislature.
Redistricting has caused some major shifts as well as gains in Florida’s black state legislative delegation. Of the present black house members, only one, John Thomas of Jacksonville, will be returning. While Girardeau and Meeks are likely to move to the senate, the two remaining incumbent black legislators were defeated in primary battles. Longtime Democratic representative Joe Lang Kershaw and John Plummer, the first black Republican to serve in the Florida legislature since Reconstruction, were defeated by political newcomers–one a black and the other a white Republican woman.
Other house primary victories by black Democrats include Doug Jamison, who defeated longtime NAACP activist Morris Melton in St. Petersburg; Alzo Reddick in Orlando, Bill Clark in Fort Lauderdale, and David Anderson a black in North Palm Beach area won a surprise victory in a district that is ninety-five percent white. A former Martin County school board member, Anderson faced white Republican opposition on November 2.
Gains for Hispanics will be decided after ail the votes are counted from the November 2 elections; most are from Dade County and are viewed as conservative Republicans. Seven Hispanics are running for the house and one has been nominated for the state senate.
Working against a court-ordered deadline, the Georgia Legislature approved a sixty-five percent black congressional district for the Atlanta metropolitan area in early August. The decision followed a week of lengthy debate which included a Saturdaysessionthatmetuntil4:30a.m. Sunday. The result was a plan, for use in the November election, that gained quick approval from the Justice Department and the federal court.
The state had appealed the Justice Department’s April decision. Justice had held that the drawing of a fifty-seven percent black, Atlanta-based, district was racially motivated in light of the earlier refusal of the state house of representatives to adopt a sixty-nine percent black district. Sponsored by Georgia Senator Julian Bond, the sixty-nine percent plan had passed the state senate.
After several days of hearings in June, a three-judge federal court in Washington issued an order upholding Justice’s decision. The court found “overt racial statements. the conscious minimizing of black voting strength, historical discrimination and the absence of a legitimate non-racial reason for adoption of the plan at issue.” When an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected, the August special session was called and the General Assembly faced the task of improving on a proposed district which had a fifty-seven percent black population but only a forty-five percent black registered voter population.
Initial proposals by the legislative black caucus were introduced by Senator Bond and black Representative Billy McKinney, of Atlanta. They called for the creation of a 68.3% black district. House Speaker Tom Murphy countered with a proposed 60.9% plan and Rep. Al Scott, a black legislator from Savannah, introduced a compromise proposal of 64.7% black.
From the start, few capital politicos differed in predicting the likelihood of a black Fifth Congressional District, although Murphy publicly vowed his unyielding opposition to a sixty-five percent black district. One of the problems that faced Murphy and others was how to create districts that met the Justice Department’s requirements and assured the election of Democratic incumbents. This desire to protect Fourth District Congressman Elliott Levitas was especially evident when Murphy remarked that “we’d like to help Elliott if we can.”
For Levitas, the demographics of Fulton and DeKalb counties produced a threatening situation. A heavily black Fifth District, as proposed in the Bond-McKinney plan, would stretch across the southern portion of the two counties leaving the Fourth District holding the northern portions where high income whites are creating a Republican stronghold.
Throughout the session, Levitas and Fifth District Congressman Wyche Fowler worked the hallways and backrooms at the state capital attempting to hang on to as much friendly political geography as possible. In the end, as a former state legislator, Levitas was clearly more influential and Fowler’s Fifth District lost a sizable chunk of central Atlanta’s biracial Democratic community, much of the core of his support. To the new Fifth went a large portion of north Atlanta and north Fulton County; the Justice Department got a 65.02% black populated district. In the Fourth District, the outcome was suitably low in Republican character for Congressman Levitas.
Ironically, in early discussions in the 1981 special sessions and with the Justice Department, the legislative leadership had criticized Sen. Bond’s initial effort to create a black congressional district because it would split Atlanta. That issue turned moot when the goal became the prevention of a Republican challenge to Levitas.
While the plan won the narrow approval of the Justice Department and the state intervenors, the state’s proposed timetables, which called for a forty-eight hour filing period and primary elections within two weeks of the end of the special session, were unacceptable. The final timetable approved by the courts for election in the Fifth and Fourth included a primary date of November 2 and a general election date of November 30.
With so little campaign time left, two prospective black candidates, Sen. Julian Bond and Fulton County Commissioner Regionald Eaves, decided against battling the incumbent Fowler over the new district. Both noted that the timetable provided little opportunity to raise sufficient funds and plan a campaign. State Rep. McKinney, however, entered the race as an independent, McKinney (who is a Democrat in the state legislature received the endorsement of the legislative black caucus, Senator Bond and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Yet, Fowler’s reelection was never in doubt.
In state legislative races, blacks appear to have made several gains in both the Georgia House and Georgia Senate. In the senate, Rep. Al Scott and Rep. David Scott of Atlanta appear to have secured seats. Frank Redding has been elected to a new house seat in suburban DeKalb County; former city commissioner Mary Young in Albany; George Brown in Augusta. Estimates show at least twenty-five blacks will serve in the legislature when the General Assembly meets in January–a gain of at least three seats.
The September primary elections in Louisiana confirmed that its six incumbent congressional members will return to Washington. So ended a protracted dispute which began late last year when a Democratic state legislature created a majority-black congressional seat in New Orleans only to recant at the urging of Republican Governor David Treen. Seeing the promise of the [unclear] Louisiana black in Congress in this century fade away, black leaders and civil rights lawyers fought unsuccess-
fully before the Justice Department and the courts to stop the plan.
Louisiana has an open primary which puts all candidates, regardless of party, on the ballot. Among the incumbents, two Democrats, Billy Tauzin and Buddy Roemer, had no opposition, and the other four received a majority of the votes in the primary.
Since a full hearing on the court challenge by black plaintiffs has not yet been held, the existing congressional districts could be changed before the 1984 elections. During the summer the federal court in New Orleans refused to overturn the legislative plan before this year’s elections although it indicated that a final decision on district lines beyond 1982 would be decided only after full discovery and hearing. The success of the black plaintiffs’ challenge is uncertain at best since the Justice Department did approve the plan under its authorized voting rights review. Federal courts seldom, if ever, disapprove of redistricting plans on the same issues which the Justice Department has considered and approved under its administrative review.
The possibility of a majority-black district in New Orleans appeared strong last November when the legislature adopted a plan creating just such a district. Never a favorite of many black leaders, Gov. Treen opposed the bill strongly, in pert because the black district would jeopardize the reelection of an incumbent Republican, Bob Livingston. After jawboning and threatening a veto, Treen had his way and the legislature recanted.
With such a clear record of racial intent, civil rights lawyers and members of the state legislative black caucus went to the Justice Department confident that they had a strong case. At the time, one of the lawyers, Bill Quigley, remarked: “This case presents the acid test of whether a Republican governor’s influence at the Republican Justice Department is stronger than the law.” After heavy lobbying from Gov. Treen, Justice approved the plan. It held that the state had shown the plan to be unmotivated by race and without discriminatory effort. The results of the acid test were in.
After a three-judge panel in Greenville, Mississippi turned away the pleas of black plaintiff Owen Brooks and others that the court create a congressional district with a sixty-five percent black population in the Delta, civil rights lawyers raced to the U.S. Supreme Court. It refused to disturb the lower court’s order to permit congressional elections in August with the court-ordered fifty-three percent black district.
Because the voting-age population and the registration rate of blacks are considerably below the level of the black population in general, the Court’s decision appeared to doom hopes of a district in which black voters would elect a candidate. Yet, news of the Supreme Court’s decision was followed quickly by the announcement of Mississippi Delta Congressman David Bowen that he would not seek reelection, and a field of six candidates, including black state Representative Robert Clark of Holmes County was sowed.
Almost every political analyst and writer in the state gave Clark very little chance of winning the nomination on August 17, although a few ventured that he might make it into a runoff. State labor leader Claude Ramsey however, was more optimistic and very supportive, especially since the state AFL-CIO had supported the fifty-three percent plan in court. Ramsey contended theta good candidate–black or white–could be elected in the Delta with such a plan and that the larger black majority plan would only “help Republicans elsewhere in the state.”
When the votes were counted in August, Clark had defeated his four white opponents and received fifty-six percent of the vote–enough to avoid a runoff. Despite lingering doubts that the white Republicans had voted for Clark in order to give their own candidates an easy target in November, Clark appeared to be on the road to Washington.
While Clark’s strong showing was, a victory for the almost forty percent black population in Mississippi who had not seen a black congressman go to Washington in their lifetime, the election results presented a real problem for Frank Parker, the lawyer who represented the black plaintiffs in the Greenville court. Whie the court will consider again the question of the district lines for elections after 1982, the judges will no doubt look with skepticism on Parker’s premise that racial bloc voting in the Delta by whites will keep black voters’ candidates from public office. Whie he may be able to call upon eighty-one years of Mississippi history to support his case, Parker will have to figure out how to convince the judges that this exception in Mississippi ought not set the rule in law.
In the face of challenges from the NAACP to congressional and state house reapportionments, South Carolina lawmakers now appear confident that their new district lines, used in this year’ selections, will be sustained by the federal courts. Adopted in early summer, the congressional plan avoided the creation of a majority black district near the coast. Nonetheless, it was approved by the three-judge federal panel, one of whose members characterized the NAACP’s arguments as “frivolous.”
The state house plan adds two new majority-black districts. It has also been approved by the courts and the Justice Department.
The state senate has not yet reapportioned, and a bitter fight looms as incumbents in the all-white chamber try to avoid single-member districts. Elections for the state senate in South Carolina are not held this year, and senators have until mid-1984 to develop their strategy.The black leadership, including the legislative black caucus in Columbia, are deciding how to present their best case before the legislature, the Justice Department, and ultimately the courts.
When the Texas legislature returns to Austin in early 1983, they face once more the task of reapportioning both chambers of the state house, and, at the least, the congressional districts in the Dallas area. In June, federal courts ordered temporary plans for the elections but required that the state redo the plans in the 1983 legislative session.
A flood of paperwork was filed by lawyers for Democrats, Republicans and Mexican-Americans in June and July as they attempted to overturn lower court opinions for the primary elections. The first plan adopted by the Democratic state legislature generally protected incumbents although it appeared to offer more safety to incumbent conservatives, Republican or Democrat, than to the liberal Democrats. The highly partisan elections of November 2 should help all Texas Democratic congressmen win a more sympathetic ear from the state lawmakers.
Because of increased population, the Texas legislature had to create three new congressional districts this year. In this rearrangement the Hispanic caucus hopes to create one or two majority Hispanic congressional seats: in the state’s southwest and around Dallas. If the legislature fails, as seems likely, the effort will probably be continued in court by the Mexican-American Legal Defense Education Fund. The Justice Department and thc federal courts will likely decide if the failure to create such districts has a racially discriminatory effect or purpose.
Generating in court “enough paper to patch Houston’s freeway,” the temporary congressional districts appear to have helped no one more than the incumbents. When the final votes arc official in Texas, their composition will remain much the same.
In the state legislature. the number of Mexican-American legislators in the lower house may increase by four or five for a total of twenty-two as a result of the. November elections although no gains are expected in the state senate.
After a year of special sessions and court litigation costing the state as much as a million dollars, the Virginia legislature created a single-member district plan for both houses which added five majority-black districts to the existing four. As the election results are being tallied in that state, some politicians and political observers are wondering what all the shouting was about.
Although the concepts of both single-member districts and majority-black districts were at the heart of the fears of many incumbent Virginia Assembly members, the “dreaded effect” that Democratic majority leader Thomas Moss of Norfolk predicted appears illusory six months after thc legislature acceded to the objections of the Justice Department and the courts. Forecasting earlier that single-member districts would cause an invasion of Republicans like Grant’s march through Richmond, the lawmakers’ predictions have not been borne out by election returns. Democrats will remain in firm control. At the same time. the four blacks in the Virginia legislature may not have their ranks doubled until at least the late 1980’s when voter registration and turnout are higher.
“When put in perspective. the fight in the legislature for over a year to keep out a total of three black lawmakers is absolutely incredible,” remarks Jack Gravely, the head of the NAACP.
This report was prepared by the staff of the Southern Regional Council.