Florida’s 5th congressional district, ruled a constitutional violation yesterday because of its extreme gerrymandering

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A (lengthy) explanation, in case you’re wondering what’s going on.

The vast majority of states (including Florida) leave the redistricting process up to state legislatures, which of course is made up of partisan politicians. Florida is Republican in both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s seat, and the general trend in those situations is to maximize the number of seats for Republicans (swap out Democrats when Democrats have control, it’s a problem on both sides). To do so, the best strategy is to pack as many Democrats as possible into a few districts, and have a lot of ~55% Republican districts, so that you have a lot of “wasted” Democrat votes in those packed districts, and are “efficient” with votes in the Republican districts.

Republicans unintentionally and perversely get a boost in gerrymandering relative to Democrats, though, thanks to the Voting Rights Act. There’s been a long history of disenfranchising racial minorities in the US, and it came to a head in the 1980s, when the Supreme Court finally came down and said that if a racial minority community voted cohesively and differently than the racial majority, and was large enough to make a relatively compact district where they made up a majority of that district, that majority-minority district should be drawn, or it would be a case of racial discrimination through vote dilution. And yes, that shit happened intentionally – it’s called “cracking”, where they’d split up a minority area across several districts so that they’d be overwhelmed by the majority in every district.

Why does this help Republicans? In nearly every case, the races that are large enough for majority-minority districts are blacks and Hispanics, both of which vote strongly Democrat. African-Americans are especially Democrat (over 90%), and the district linked is a black district. By packing enough African-Americans into a district to make it majority-minority, it’s essentially equivalent to a Republican gerrymander strategy.

There are two issues here, though. The first goes back to where a majority-minority district is required – the minority community has to be relatively compact. The Supreme Court has been relatively lenient here, but if the *only* explanation for the shape of a district is race, it’s not legal, and this district hits the point where it’s hard to justify on any other grounds than race.

The other wrinkle that applies in Florida is that in 2010, the state’s voters passed a couple of state constitutional amendments regarding how districts should be drawn. The major clause in this case is that districts can’t be drawn to benefit a particular party (which, believe it or not, is not a restriction in nearly every state). In the case that was just decided yesterday, a lot of sketchy stuff came to light. A major thing is that at least one Republican consultant (and probably others, some stuff in the trial was sealed from public view) submitted a map through the public submission process, which normally would not be a problem – anyone is allowed to do so – but he submitted it under someone else’s name. Even more sketchy, and what wasn’t actually resolved, is whether that person whose name the map was submitted under was aware that his name was used. Initially, and not under oath, he said he had submitted the map, but when he finally was deposed, he changed his story. Personally, I think he did know – he was the chair of the Republican party organization at one of the state universities, and spoke at one of the public input sessions (ironically, praising the transparency of the process) – but *someone* was lying, either the consultant or him. But the consultant in question, looking at the maps he was developing before the actual submission, appeared to focus on the minority districts in particular, in all likelihood because of the advantage that doing so would give Republicans.

Another issue is that the actual state legislators and legislative staff kept hammering that they thought that they had to have a majority-minority district here in order to guarantee that African-Americans would be able to elect a candidate of their choosing (again, a Voting Rights Act requirement). The problem is, a similar district to this has existed for a couple decades and elected a black representative, but it had never had been a majority black in terms of population. That is, the white majority *did* vote enough with the black minority for them to be represented as they wanted, which removes the need for reaching a majority. Furthermore, the legislators never provided evidence that they did any sort of analysis suggesting that they needed that majority in order to provide African-Americans with proper representation, which undermined their argument.

So that shot this district to shit, essentially. What’s more, this final map heavily favored Republicans – it’s a state that voted for Obama twice, but has 17 Republican congressmen to 10 Democrats, and very few competitive seats. Even worse, the very first map they presented to the public was actually 14-13 Democrat (which would be expected given presidential election results), with quite a few competitive seats, and the linked district was not majority-minority. That suggests they were not acting in good faith in their changes from that point to the final result.

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