May 11, 2015 Articles

Population Predominance in Racial Gerrymandering

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama provides the high court's latest statement on racial gerrymandering and offers new insight into the role of equal-population objectives in redistricting analysis.

By O. Andrew F. Wilson – May 11, 2015

The Supreme Court’s decision in the related cases Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama provides the high court’s latest statement on racial gerrymandering and offers new insight into the role of equal-population objectives in redistricting analysis. The majority holds that, regardless of population fluctuations, race may only be used to draw districts where necessary to ensure minorities are able to elect candidates of their choice.

Addressing the complexity of racial gerrymandering has long been at the heart of the Supreme Court’s voting-rights jurisprudence. The Fourteenth Amendment forbids use of racial classification in any “redistricting plan [unless it is] in pursuit of a compelling state interest . . . [and] narrowly tailored to achieve” that interest. Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 908 (1996) (Shaw II) (citation omitted). And the Fifteenth Amendment provides that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” As the Supreme Court recognized more than 20 years ago, “[r]acial gerrymandering, even for remedial purposes . . . threatens to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race no longer matters—a goal that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments embody, and to which the Nation continues to aspire.” Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 657 (1993) (Shaw I). In March of this year, the Supreme Court analyzed whether a prioritization of equal district populations in Alabama’s new redistricting plan furthers these constitutional goals.

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