WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2022
At the Post, do editors care? Should state legislatures "take race into account" in creating congressional districts?
Is it legal to "take race into account?" Is it required by law? If it is required by law, is it a good idea? Also, if some such action is required by law, would that requirement be constitutional?
These are important questions. Due to our nation's brutal racial history, a wide range of major policy questions still turn on matters of what we describe as "race."
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about the way congressional districts are formed. At issue is a somewhat peculiar question:
Among its seven congressional districts, should Alabama have one district which is majority black, or should it instead have two?
For the record, a second question lurks inside that surface question. That hidden question goes like this:
Among its seven congressional districts, should Alabama have one district which is likely to elect a Democrat, or should it instead have two?
In short, we have one (important) surface question, and a second important which may be slightly disguised.
Under terms of prevailing American law, these questions are highly complex. There's little chance that any daily newspaper will be able to explain the constitutional twists and turns of this matter in a way which the average reader will actually understand.
That said, our newspapers gave it a try this morning—in the New York Times, to cite one example, but also in the Washington Post. In its online edition, the Post's report on this complex question appears beneath this basically sensible headline:
Supreme Court debates Alabama’s refusal of second Black voting district
Simply put, the Alabama legislature has created one congressional district (out of seven) which is majority black. Litigants are arguing that, under terms of the Voting Rights Act, the legislature should have created two such districts.
On a legal and constitutional basis, this is a highly complex matter. The Post's Robert Barnes gives the topic his best shot today, but as with so many aspects of our civil society, the matter is so complexificated that it's quite hard for a daily journalist to settle all (or any) points.
Last week, Charles Blow wrote an opinion column in the New York Times in which he discussed a similar matter in Florida. Below, you see the headline on the column, and the start of the relevant section:
Ron DeSantis's Race Problem
I have always thought of DeSantis as reading the rules of villainy from a coloring book and acting them out. Nothing about him says clever and tactical. He seems to me the kind of man who must conjure confidence, who is fragile and feisty because of it, a beta male trying desperately to convince the world that he’s an alpha.
But there is a way in which race policy reaches far beyond being merely racist-adjacent. DeSantis, for instance, has actually tried to strip Black Floridians of their power and voice.
In 2010, Florida voters, by a strong majority, approved a constitutional amendment rejecting gerrymandering. The amendment made clear that “districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
Yet Florida’s Republican-led Legislature produced a gerrymandered map anyway. In 2015, the state Supreme Court struck down much of the Legislature’s proposed map, and demanded that eight House districts be redrawn. Among them was the Fifth District, which at the time snaked up the state from Orlando to Jacksonville. The redrawn map allowed Black voters to elect four Black representatives.
For the record, Blow ends up describing a redistricting which occurred in the past several years. Eventually, Blow reports, Governor DeSantis stepped into the fray, creating yet another "redrawn map" which reduced the number of majority-black districts down to two, instead of four.
"The legislature went along and approved DeSantis’s map," Blow correctly notes.
To what extent should race be an issue when legislatures construct such maps? To what extent must race be an issue under terms of the Voting Rights Act? To what extent is justice served by the creation of such maps?
Those are the questions being explored before the Supreme Court in the Alabama case. The questions at issue are very important. Given our brutal racial history, so are all such matters involving the topic we refer to as race.
Tomorrow, we'll look at the way Blow treated the Florida matter. For today, we thought we'd describe the prominence, or lack of same, the Washington Post has given to this topic in its online edition today.
Barnes' report about the Alabama case is the featured report in today's POLITICS section.
That said, that section appears roughly two-thirds of the way down the online Post's lengthy front page. A reader must scroll and scroll, then scroll some more, just to see that some such report exists.
What sorts of topics will the reader encounter before reaching Barnes' report? Briefly, let us count the topics:
Online, the Post' s front page starts with six featured news reports. Two of the fully bannered headlines are these:
Chess site alleges ‘likely’ cheating by embattled Magnus Carlsen rival
I tried McDonald’s Happy Meal for adults, and it didn’t make me happy
After those six bannered reports, the reader encounters this additional pair of reports, presented with smaller display:
Angelina Jolie details Brad Pitt abuse allegations in new filing
Aaron Judge hits home run No. 62 to pass Roger Maris’s single-season mark
At this point, we've barely begun our long, slow act of scrolling all the way down to the Barnes report. And alas! Before the reader sees that report, she will encounter these:
She will encounter the online Post's ADVICE section. Today, its four reports present advice from Carlyon Hax, from Ask Damon, from Miss manners and from Ask Amy.
After that, the reader will encounter the Post's WELL + BEING section. Five reports are featured today, including these:
Coffee vs. tea smackdown
How many concussions is too many? Neurologists answer your questions.
Why do cats knead? Why do dogs lick you? The science of pets’ quirks.
The coffee vs tea smackdown is the section's featured report.
Beauty experts have had enough of celebrity skin care brands
When seniors can’t care for their dogs, these volunteers step in
Snoop Dogg says his cannabis-infused onion rings may make you say ‘oowee’
Finally, two-thirds of the way down an endless front page, the reader encounters the NATIONAL section. Its five reports include this:
Lost cat found in Idaho 9 years after wandering away from California home
At last, the reader encounters the POLITICS section, where the Barnes report about the Alabama case is offered as the third of five. We think this placement may tell an enduring story about the true shape of our world.
Do editors at the Washington Post actually care about topics involving matters of race? Again and again, then again and again, we find ourselves asking that question about journalists and opinion leaders within our own blue tribe.
In his column about Florida's redistricting, Blow delivered a standard tribal message. He let us know that the Others are just plain pretty much racist.
At present, our own blue tribe loves to make that sweeping tribal accusation. But do we sometimes toy with basic facts to pleasure ourselves with that claim?
Especially at this highly partisan time, many members of our own tribes love to make that sweeping claim. Experts suggest the possibility that, due to the way our human brains are wired, we may, at the end of the day, care about little else!
Tomorrow: Blow visits the Fifth