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Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2001 / 27 Kislev 5762

Evan Gahr

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Consumer Reports

Voting rights and wrongs -- IT'S business as usual for the nation's bean counters.

September 11 abruptly changed the world for most Americans. The terrorist attacks were rightly considered an assault on the values nearly all Americans cherish. Racial fault lines seemed to disappear amid flag waving and patriotic music. In the background, however, quota mongers continue to sing their tired old song. As states re-draw congressional districts in accordance with the results of the 2000 census, these unrepentant bean counters charge racism when the new boundaries donít conform to their particular notion of "diversity." Politicians who voted to approve the revamped districts, even if minorities themselves, are accused of complicity in wicked schemes to perpetuate white hegemony.

Case in point: In Los Angeles, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund seeks to invalidate two of California's new congressional districts. MALDEF filed a federal lawsuit October 1 charging that the new districts would intentionally dilute overall Latino voting power in violation of the Voting Rights Act. MALDEF contends that the new districts were designed to ensure the continued election of Anglo representatives. The proof? Instead of hard evidence, MALDEF falls back on statistics and suppositions: the districts, it says, contain insufficient numbers of Latinos to elect "one of their own"--so to speak. In a press release announcing the lawsuit, MALDEF explains that the "congressional district maps fracture the geographically compact Latino community in the San Fernando Valley, intentionally placing adjacent heavily Latino area into two separate districts, thus leaving Latinos to cast ineffective votes as minority dissenters."

MALDEF ís claim makes a certain amount of perverse sense, if you accept their premise that skin color is destiny. In other words, minorities can't possibly be elected without substantial support from other minorities, who robotically vote for anyone of like skin color.

In the 1990s, this theory spawned the creation of majority black and majority Hispanic districts, often drawn in strange shapes to achieve the "right numbers." The Supreme Court has since declared such blatant "racial gerrymandering" illegal--but left room for more modest efforts to achieve the "right numbers." Nevertheless, the rationale for such shenanigans seems particularly outdated. There are countless examples of minorities being elected with substantial support from whites, and vice-versa.

Moreover, all but three of Californiaís 26 Latino state legislators even voted for the re-districting plan which MALDEF seeks to over-turn. Nevertheless, MALDEF sees discriminatory intent behind the new boundaries for districts now represented by Congressmen Howard Berman and Bob Filner.

Both are Democrats. Berman seems a particularly odd target for Latino "civil rights advocates." The 10 term incumbent is known for his support of liberal causes, such as legislation to protect farm workers and loosen immigration laws, the kind of stuff which MALDEF presumably favors. Besides, Berman has been re-elected with strong Latino support, even when he defended his seat against a challenge from another Latino. The MALDEF lawsuit leaves him "terribly disappointed," he told the Los Angles Times. "I guess for MALDEF it's more about skin color and ethnicity than the philosophy and quality of representation."


Here ís hoping for the day when liberal activists will judge elected officials by the content of the character, not the color of their skin. Most voters already do--despite the best efforts of certain civil rights leaders. In the 1980s, Rep. Peter Rodino (D-NJ) was elected with strong support from blacks, despite loud pleas from the Rev. Jesse Jackson that they choose a black politician instead. The carping from Jackson eventually convinced Rodino to step aside so a black could be elected.

Today, MALDEF and their fellow bean counters are determined to protect minority voters from themselves. MALDEF claims that the new districts would squelch the voice of Latino voters. If anything, it ís MALDEF which suppresses--or at least contradicts--the wishes of those Latino voters and politicians who don't seem particularly enamored of identity politics. Rebuffed by popular elected officials, MALDEF has turned to the courts to circumvent the Democrat process. If its federal lawsuit succeeds, all of California's distract may need to be re-drawn.

This is not an only in California story. Nationwide, the judiciary is weighing other challenges to new districts and several cases reportedly could end up before the United States Supreme Court. Outside the legal arena, some politicians play a similar race card.

Rep. William Clay Jr. (D-Missouri) recently attacked his fellow Missouri Dems for supporting new legislative boundaries which create insufficient numbers of black majority districts. White Democrats, he lamented, have been "leading the charge "to illegally dilute the voting power of minorities.

If anything, the new boundaries would dilute the power of politicians and advocacy groups who rely on outdated theories of racial solidarity.

Shouldn't folks who now proclaim "United We Stand" renounce schemes that would divide Americans by race the moment they enter the voting booth? Or post-September 11, have things not changed so much, after all?

Evan Gahr, JWR's Washington correspondent, is an adjunct scholar at the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, DC. To comment click here.


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© 2001, Evan Gahr