A motley krewe of left-wing interest groups once more has injected itself into Louisiana’s reapportionment process – and once more betrays a transparent political agenda attempting to use the redistricting maps to set the stage to maximize its quest for power.
Headed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, this time the groups weigh in on the Legislature’s future district plans. They already have done so for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, stumping for an additional majority-minority district for each.
Each of these previous proposals has constitutional problems. Jurisprudence allows using race as a criterion to draw lines if (1) a minority racial group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district; (2) the group is politically cohesive; and (3) bloc voting by a white majority must usually defeat the minority group’s preferred candidate. The groups make somewhat inflated claims in order to demonstrate satisfaction of these criteria, but even conceding race should play some role in map-making, jurisprudence also is such that race cannot be the dominant criterion absent unusual circumstances, which in their House and BESE maps they violate (additionally, in the case of BESE they attempt to use a judicial standard rejected by the courts.)
They run much the same playbook with the same somewhat-questionable arguments for their legislative maps, but in this instance they stand on firmer theoretical ground. They had to resort to dubious constitutionality with the others because the distribution of population by race in the state makes it difficult to draw additional M/M districts without tossing aside other judicially-legitimate criteria that justify the present boundaries creating one House M/M seat and two BESE M/M seats.
But as the constituencies become numerically greater and smaller in size, the distributional problem recedes. Combined with that the black population increased statewide by about 3.8 percent and whites decreased by around 6.2 percent since the last map drawing, this makes inevitable that both chambers should pick up M/M seats.
However, the groups’ plan overdoes it. At present, there are 10 M/M Senate and 29 M/M House districts, although only 36 total black legislators are in office (because in two such House districts whites are elected, and a Senate majority white district has elected a black while an M/M district there has elected a white, and there’s a House vacancy that has elected blacks). That means with blacks making up just about a third of current population, 27.6 percent of House and 25.6 percent of Senate seats are M/M.
Yet the groups want to go much further. Their maps call for 38 House and 14 Senate M/M districts, or 36.1 and 35.8 percent of seats. And when considering the black voting age population (those 18 or older minus individuals in that age group who have lost the franchise through legal proceedings) is just 31.2 percent, the bias towards making districts where political outcomes would favor disproportionately the political left (as almost all blacks vote for Democrats) becomes even more obvious. Significantly, all elected under these plans if voting together produces a bloc that can veto supermajority decisions in the chambers.
The groups hedge a bit with their ACLU spokesman saying not to infer by its presentation that “these are the only maps possible,” but clearly that’s their goal. And, as with the other two mapping exercise for Congress and BESE, their communication insinuates legal action forthcoming if their demands aren’t met.
That these maps also represent exercises in gerrymandering becomes clear when reviewing some relevant statistics. If trying to maximize representation of your preferred party, the optimal strategy has you creating as many narrow wins as possible and in the most possible districts while having the opposition win as largely as possible and in the fewest districts possible. Consequences of a reapportionment strategy may be assessed by reviewing the size of majorities they have in each district, by comparing the 2010 numbers from the existing maps and the plans proposed.
Keep in mind as well that the white proportions typically should decrease and those for blacks increase because of the overall population changes. If the old maps were skewed in favor of fewer whites in that kind of majority district and more blacks in that kind, if the same skew existed the white majority districts on average should fall about 2.9 percent in VAP composition and black majority ones rise about 1.1 percent.
For the Senate, the typical white majority district (measured by VAP) fell from 75.66 to 69.91 percent from actual to proposed – twice as much as the population decline. But the typical black majority district went from 58.43 to 53.21 percent – almost the same decline despite having an overall population increase. For the House, the equivalent numbers were 77.62 to 70.61 and 61.82 to 53.61 percent – roughly the same pattern.
In other words, while plan to plan the white majority districts stayed with an advantage about the same relative to the population base, black districts’ same numbers shrunk dramatically. This means spreading out the excess black 2020 population compared to that of 2010 over more close districts to capture them, and to deal with whites now having to be part of these districts (hence the more rapid decline of the white majority district average relative to population). So, if the groups allege the 2010 maps were skewed, they have done the same in the opposite direction for 2020.
Plus, hitting an exact proportion of districts – implying (by VAP) two more Senate and four more House seats – doesn’t have to override other constitutionally-recognized reapportionment criteria, such as keeping together communities of interest or protecting incumbents, the latter of which will redound to the advantage of the majority party since there are more of them. The 2010-based maps – written by chambers with majorities of Democrats – valued those two things and assuming that continues, in light of a 4 percent swing between races in population proportion, an additional M/M Senate seat and a couple in the House isn’t unreasonable to expect concatenated from past plans viewed as legal.
While, by contrast, four Senate and nine House seats is unreasonable, and to get there appears again to raise the specter that race is being given inappropriate prominence in the groups’ calculations. So, modest increases in M/M districts when balanced against other factors seem appropriate, not hikes that betray the political agenda behind them.