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OTHER COMMENTARY : PERSPECTIVES ON RACIAL GERRYMANDERING : Racial Balkanization's Gains Are Short-Term

July 02, 1993|GARY MENDOZA | Gary Mendoza is an attorney with Riordan & McKinzie.

Monday's decision by the Supreme Court invalidating the racial gerrymandering of North Carolina's 12th Congressional District has been roundly denounced by the civil-rights Establishment. When I represented Sarah Flores during the remedy phase of the 1990 Voting Rights Act challenge to the L.A. County supervisorial district lines, however, I learned that redistricting along racial lines often dilutes, rather than enhances, the overall voting strength of minority groups.

The redistricting plan supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Justice Department, and ultimately accepted was crafted around Gloria Molina's councilmanic district. Although these lines helped ensure the election of a woman who is widely viewed as a champion of Latino interests, there was another available plan that would have further enhanced Latino voting strength.

Early on in the Voting Rights Act case, the Justice Department crafted five redistricting plans that would have satisfied the department's concerns. One plan, Grofman 2, would have provided one solid Latino district, incorporating much of the San Gabriel Valley and the Eastside, and one Latino growth district in the San Fernando Valley.

On behalf of Sarah Flores, we fought to persuade the Justice Department and the other plaintiffs to support Grofman 2. Unfortunately, as the case moved to its conclusion, it struck us that the case had become more focused on making certain that a liberal Latino was elected rather than assuring overall Latino voting strength. Liberal interest groups aren't the only ones that have used the Voting Rights Act to pursue a political agenda. Republican Party strategists also understand that packing all minority voters in a single district makes once safe Democratic seats much more competitive. Unfortunately, by doing so, the interests of minority voters are more often overlooked by representatives who no longer need to appeal for their votes.

While the form of gerrymandering invalidated by the Supreme Court may yield some short-term political gains for historically disenfranchised minority groups, it doesn't serve their long-term interests. This racial Balkanization also aggravates racial and ethnic tensions and is, at its heart, inconsistent with fundamental American principles. It's hard to understand why the civil-rights Establishment refuses to recognize these realities.

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