The San Antonio Express-News and its columnist O. Ricardo Pimentel opined recently that “Jim Crow lives in the state’s redistricting map.” According to Pimentel, who recently immigrated to San Antonio from Wisconsin:
- “Jim Crow lives in these maps. He’s pretending that if he says his maps are intended to favor Republicans, not target Latinos who just happen to vote Democrat, this isn’t racist. Mr. Crow is a bit more sophisticated these days. Gone are the poll taxes and the white primary, Texas’ historic tools. Now, redistricting and, yes, voter ID, serve the cause. The point is: Don’t relinquish power. If there are rules or shifting demography that require it, change the rules and ignore the shifts. Find a friendly court. Texas is banking that the U.S. Supreme Court is it. But one of Section 5’s functions is to block redistricting shenanigans.”
- “Section 5 says that states with histories of thwarting Latinos, blacks and others at the ballot box should have their new maps pre-cleared, usually by the Justice Department. This to determine if the maps are drawn with the intent to discriminate or otherwise make matters worse for minorities.”
As I noted in an earlier blog posting, “redistricting shenanigans” or gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s, and Texas Democrats have practiced the art as effectively as anyone. Although I can’t think of anything good to say about the practice, it is generally legal, except when it has an effect that violates Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
I initially thought Pimentel’s description of Section 5 – that it requires pre-clearance of redistricting maps “to determine if the maps are drawn with the intent to discriminate or otherwise make matters worse for minorities” – was too simplistic, but I have learned from further reading that his description is essentially accurate – i.e., gerrymandering is illegal if it has a discriminatory effect or a retrogressive purpose on minorities.
Thus, Republicans are much more ham-strung when it comes to gerrymandering than are Democrats. Republicans can gerrymander to their heart’s content, but only if it doesn’t adversely affect minorities, who happen to be the base of the Democratic Party. That doesn’t seem fair, and I can’t imagine why the Republican Party in 2006 under George W. Bush voted in favor of a 25-year extension of Section 5. What were they thinking?
Fortunately, the Supreme Court in 1995 (Miller v. Johnson) held that Section 5 does not mandate gerrymandering in favor of minorities (the U.S. Justice Dept. had pressured Georgia to redistrict for so-called black-district maximization), and that makes me wonder whether a white plaintiff could challenge the new congressional district #35 that stretches from San Antonio to Austin.
Regarding the title of this posting – “Pimentel plays the race card” – my point is that I believe Republicans are trying to discriminate against Democrats, not minorities, and that’s why I don’t think Pimentel should have played the race card. But he has a track record of trying to inflame, not inform.