Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Non-Rap Related Survey About Race and Politics

So I have a thorny point in a law review article I'm writing, and would appreciate your input. After the funny-looking picture, I give some explanation of what these questions are relevant to.

1. Suppose someone told you that in any election, there is a candidate whom 70% of your race supports. Would you find that statement offensive? (Not just factually inaccurate, offensive.)

Suppose someone told you that in any election, there is a candidate whom 85% of your race supports. Would you find that statement offensive?

If the answers to 1 and 2 are no, how high a number do you have to fill in the blank to make this statement offensive: ___% of your race all vote for the same candidates. Or does no number, even 100, make it an offensive statement?

4. If any version of the statement offends you (i.e. "99% of blacks vote Democratic" - false statement, of course), why?

Above is the famous 12th District of North Carolina, as it existed in 1992. A few facts about the 12th District:

  • It was 57% black.
  • It was one of two new majority-black districts the NC State Legislature drew in 1990.
  • Between the post-Civil War years and 1992, North Carolina had no black Congressmen.
  • North Carolina was, in 1990, about 20% black.
  • In 1992, this and the 1st District elected NC's first black Congressmen in over a century.
  • The district was designed to be a majority-black district.
  • It was designed to elect a "candidate of choice" of the black community.
  • It's so funny-looking because, in part, black population in North Carolina is relatively dispersed, so in order to make two majority-black districts, they really had to work at it.
  • The Supreme Court found it unconstitutional, and did so in part because:
It reinforces the perception that members of the same racial group--regardless of their age, education, economic status, or the community in which the live--think alike, share the same political interests, and will prefer the same candidates at the polls. (Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. at 649.)

Now, as you'll notice, our judicial overlords were pretty vague about the "perceptions" this district reinforced. How alike is alike? How same is the same? My contention is that this district clearly sends the message that blacks and whites generally prefer different candidates, but that (a) that is not an offensive message (partly because in North Carolina it's true), and that what would be an offensive message - that 100% of blacks or whites support the same candidate, or even that 99% of blacks and whites support the same candidate - is clearly a message this district didn't send.


Badmon3333 said...

I am absolutely clueless when it comes to the ins and outs of the judicial system, but I would view it as any other sort of political-district gerrymandering. If it had been realigned that way, for example, and happened to include a recent influx of largely conservative- or liberal-leaning voters.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

this is only tangentially related: don't school districts in some areas of the country do a similar rezoning of an area to diversify, or segregate, students?

it's less the raw data that bothers me as its presentation. for example, on my day off i was watching cnn, and they were talking about what obama's presidency will mean for black families. first off, the anchor spoke to a single black person to understand the impact. i also noticed the statistic "70% of black children out of wedlock" above the news ticker. now, that could be a useful point to address, but instead it was sort of tossed out at the audience and never fully addressed. nevermind that it has nothing to do with barack obama. if they instead used the phrasing "70% black children from unmarried parents," that seems more reasonable to me. my issue with "wedlock" is its historical implications.

to get to your questions, as they are, i am not bothered as long as you have the proper evidence for them (obviously).

tray said...

Yeah, school districts totally do rezone to diversify, mr. shuttlesworth. Why they're allowed to do that, while states aren't allowed to draw districts to diversify, was actually a question I wanted to ask Justice Kennedy when he came over here a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, he's a long-winded man and took about an hour to answer five questions, and then left. So yeah. But very good point.

Badmon3333 said...

At least redistricting schools for diversity has a relatively noble goal in mind.

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tray said...

But getting blacks in Congress is a noble goal too... well, debatable.

Badmon3333 said...

True, but it's a slippery slope from that to general gerrymandering based on precedent for more-nefarious reasons.