20 St. & Loc. L. News 1 (1996-1997)

handle is hein.journals/stlolane4 and id is 1 raw text is: o Section of State and Local Government Law

Vol. 20, No.1, Fall 1996

The Section serves as a collegialforum for its members, the profession and the public to provide leadership and educational resources in
urban, state and local government law andpolicy.
Race-Predominant Redistricting After Shaw v. Hunt and Bush v. Vera:
Consigned to the Dustbin of History?
By Benjamin E. Grith

On June 13, 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the kiss
of death to the odious practiceI of racial gerrymandering in
a pair of decisions involving congressional districts in North
Carolina and Texas. Shaw v. Hunt2 and Bush v.
Vera' provided the vehicles for the Court to extend the reach
of its constitutional blockbuster Miller v. Johnson4 decision
from the 1995 Term, in which it dealt with the complex ques-
tion of race-based redistricting.
In Shaw l and Vera, the Court sternly warned legislative
bodies that they cannot use race as the overriding or pre-
dominant factor in redistricting, that a finding of race-pre-
dominance cannot be avoided where incumbency protec-
tion and political gerrymandering used race as a proxy, and
that districts lacking geographical compactness will be sub-
ject to constitutional attack where their contorted bound-
aries are the product of scooping up and linking together
minority communities in order to create majority-minority
districts. Such corralling of minority voters into bizarrely
shaped safe seat districts and its concomitant retardant
effect on multi-racial coalition-building were the center-
piece of the Court's recent foray into racial politics.
Not surprisingly, these rulings were met with shrill
warnings from the ACLU that the Court was opening
the door to a bleaching of the Congress and fostering
ethnic tensions and racial polarization. s
The rulings also prompted Jesse Jackson's expression of
outrage that [a]t night the enemies of civil rights strike in
white sheets, burning churches. By day they strike in black
robes, burning opportunities.6 The Court nonetheless artic-
ulated a principled and focused constitutional limit on racial
Benjamin E. Grith is a partner
in the Cleveland, Mississippifirm
of Griffith & Griffith and serves as
vice chair (programs) of the
Government Operations
Committee of the Section.

gerrymandering and limited the use of racial stereotypes as
tools for allocating political power.
Given the complexity of the districting process and the
acknowledged absence of bright-line rules to guide leg-
islative bodies and courts in the most difficult and sensi-
tive political context of a multi-racial democracy, these
recent decisions, coupled with Shaw I,' Miller,' and Hays,9
form a coherent body of precedent and herald a judicial
commitment that will
 encourage and promote use of traditional districting
principles and practices, such as geographical com-
pactness, contiguity, and respect for existing political
subdivision boundaries;
 discourage automatic invocation of harmful, divisive
racial stereotypes;
 clarify the responsibilities and discretion of legislative
b3dies in the redistricting process, particularly with
regard to the use of nonracial districting criteria and prin-
ciples that had been traditionally utilized by state and
local governmental bodies prior to the 1990 census; and
 perhaps sound the death knell for other irregular and
bizarrely shaped majority-minority districts on the
state, county, and municipal levels, where those dis-
tricts have been drawn without regard to traditional
districting principles.
Justifications Advanced for Race-Based Districts
Both the North Carolina plaintiffs in Shaw II and the
Texas defendants in Vera sought to justify their irregular-
 Washington's Labyrinthine Ways, page 3
 Home Rule After Romer, page 5
 Regulatory Reform in New York State, page 7
. Environmental Update, page 9
 Chair's Message, page 10
 Legally Speaking, page II
 Supreme Court Watch, page 14

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