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Why we should end the creation of race-based voting districts

Voting booths.
Voting booths are set up for election day.

This term, the Supreme Court is deciding Merrill v. Milligan, a case from Alabama concerning Section 2 of the Voting rights Act. The court should use this opportunity to rule that a race-conscious interpretation of the law is at odds with the racial blindness required by the Constitution.

It is time to stop drawing voting districts based on race. Black voters are not a monolith anymore than white, Hispanic or Asian voters are. Perpetuating the myth that race is the primary determinant of viewpoint, political affiliation, political agenda or anything else is incorrect.

Race should not matter — and the only way to get to that point is to stop treating race as though it does matter. As Dr. Martin Luther King stated, people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Making assumptions about people based primarily on their race is racist. Creating raced-based voting districts does exactly that. It assumes that all people of a certain race — Black, Hispanic, white, Asian, etc. — will vote the same way, and that clumping people together on the basis of race is the only way to ensure that they are properly politically represented. This is patently false. Not all Black, white, Hispanic or Asian voters think the same — or vote the same.

Some in favor of a race-conscious Voting Rights Act argue that “Alabama’s increasingly diverse population calls for two districts, where Alabama’s Black residents can elect candidates of their choice to congressional office.” The clear assumption here is that white voters are all of one mind when it comes to curbing the influence of Black people in society. This is clearly not the case today, and pretending that it is keeps us locked in a racist past.

As Columbia University professor John McWhorter noted recently: “There has recently been significant — nay, seismic — political progress in the kind of contempt for Black people that would prevent our succeeding. How many members of Congress, of either major party, are openly opposed to Black success, or even show any sign of wanting Black people to ‘stay in their place’?” 

The outdated rhetoric of those favoring a race-based approach belies the racist attitudes behind this approach. For example, consider this language from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): “… [O]ur efforts to make and keep the United States a truly functional, multiracial democracy will be set back.”

We will never overcome the legacy of racism if we continue this type of race-based approach and thinking. The U.S. must strive to be a constitutional democracy, period — not a multiracial democracy. And, since the adoption of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, our Constitution requires racial blindness.

As Justice John Marshall Harlan stated in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, “… [I]n view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

As you might suspect, the creation of voting districts has little — if anything, really — to do with democracy, voting equality, or even race-based voter suppression. It is, of course, all about politics and gaining political advantage. Democrats play the race card because they think it will give them a political advantage. They assume that Black Americans and those of other minority groups will vote Democratic.

Those who think this way base their thinking on a racial stereotype. Their actions are reprehensible because they are perpetuating the lie that race is relevant. Individual equality is the goal and that is accomplished by making every person’s vote count, regardless of race or other irrelevant characteristics.

George A. Nation III is a professor of law and business at Lehigh University. The views expressed are the author’s and not those of the university.

Tags Black voters John McWhorter Martin Luther King race in America U.S. Constitution Voting Rights Act

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