Electing By Race

The American Lawyer

IT’S A CURIOUS COALITION, WITH A seductive but disquieting agenda.

In Georgia black leaders, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Bush Justice Department are challenging as racially discriminatory a state law that requires legislative and judicial candidates to win by a majority vote.

Across America civil rights lawyers and minority politicians, often with Republican support, are preparing a potent legal and political.offensive to create as many election districts as possible with heavy black or Hispanic majorities as the decennial redis-tricting process gets under way. Under current Voting Rights Act doctrine (as well as reigning liberal political orthodoxy), a lawyer advising nervous Democrats says, "racial gerrymandering is almost required" to create odd-shaped black or Hispanic districts. So race is the first criterion, and a quagmire of litigation looms.

And, in two pending Supreme Court cases, minority plaintiffs are pushing, with qualified Justice Department support, for full application of the Voting Rights Act to judicial elections. The plaintiffs want to force Louisiana to draw a black majority election district for its supreme court and to force states that elect trial judges to abandon jurisdiction-wide voting in favor of single-judge districts, drawn wherever possible along racial lines. These developments illustrate an alliance of convenience that has developed between civil rights lawyers – who for 25 years have battled with astonishing success for full voting rights for blacks and other minorities – and Republicans, whose enthusiasm for minority office-holding surfaced more recently, in tandem with their awareness of how it can help their side.