Remember all the fuss about how important it was for everyone to participate in the 2010 U.S. census, including historically undercounted minorities? A Louisiana political redistricting case now under review by the U.S. Justice Department demonstrates the power that census counts have to shape elections.
After each decennial census, state lawmakers redraw the political boundaries for state, local and congressional districts. Now is the first time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that a Democratic administration has been in the White House following a decennial census.
Queue up the hue and cry inevitable from right-wing Southern politicos:
In a racially mixed corner of Shreveport, La., a small group of white voters protested loudly this year that they did not want to be part of a majority black district when the legislature redrew the state’s political boundaries. The Republican-led statehouse complied, drawing a line around the community to accommodate them.
That line is at the heart of a case before the Justice Department that is seen as a critical test of how the Obama administration will interpret the controversial Voting Rights Act as it rules on a new wave of redistricting plans.
The law, passed in 1965, was designed in part to prevent white lawmakers from weakening the voting strength of minorities with the deft drawing of district lines. More than a dozen states, including Louisiana, are required because of their history of discrimination to clear their redistricting plans with Justice.
But some lawmakers in those states, many of which have Republican majorities, say they do not trust the Obama administration to fairly assess their maps …
A decision by Justice in the coming weeks to side with the state or with civil rights activists opposed to Louisiana’s map will signal how far the administration might go to protect minority rights in reviewing plans from other states that must get clearance, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Justice Department officials say their decisions will be made based on the law and facts, not politics.
They don’t trust the Obama administration to fairly assess their political maps? Maybe what they don’t — and shouldn’t — trust is that the federal government will help them protect the status quo that they so desperately cling to in an age of shifting demographics.
Read more about the Louisiana case and challenges to the Voting Rights Act at the Washington Post.
In other news: Michelle Obama Heads to South Africa, Botswana.