Where does congressional representation come from?


Charles Blow takes the (Florida) Fifth: We had planned to discuss an intriguing aspect of congressional districting this week. 

We refer to the use of gerrymandering, or something exactly like it, to increase the number of congressional representatives who are black or Hispanic.

From the liberal / progressive / Democratic Party standpoint, the attempt to increase minority membership in the House can be a bit of a double-edged sword:

Districts may be deliberately drawn in such a way as to make them "majority minority." On the bright side, this may increase the numbers of black or Hispanic pols who get elected to the House, but it may also help the GOP maintain an overall advantage in that body.

For an example of the way this can work, consider the state of Florida's Fifth congressional district. In the recent column in which he didn't call Ron DeSantis a racist, Charles Blow cited part of that district's recent history:

BLOW (9/28/22): 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.

In Blow's account, we're told that the Republican legislature produced a gerrymandered map in 2015 (or perhaps before). 

In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court demanded that eight districts be redrawn, including the Fifth District. According to Blow, after the gerrymandering was eliminated, the redrawn map "allowed Black voters to elect four Black representatives."

It almost sounded like the initial gerrymandering had been done to deprive black Floridians of the ability to elect black representatives. It almost sounded like the elimination of the gerrymandering opened the door to the election of four black representatives.

At least in the case of the Fifth District, that isn't what actually happened. Here's the way the leading authority on that district reports the relevant history:

As defined by the state legislature in 2013 (which lasted until 2017), the 5th district ran from Jacksonville to Orlando; it was considered one of the most-gerrymandered congressional districts in the country.


On July 11, 2014, Florida Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that this district, along with the neighboring District 10, had been drawn to favor the Republican Party by packing black Democratic voters into District 5. On August 1, Judge Lewis gave Florida's state legislature an Aug. 15 deadline to submit new congressional maps for those two districts.

As Blow's fuzzy passage suggested, the Fifth District was one of the gerrymandered districts which was ordered redrawn. Indeed, according to the leading authority, "it was considered one of the most-gerrymandered congressional districts in the country."

Judge Lewis found that the district had been gerrymandered for the specific purpose of creating a majority-black district, increasing the likelihood that a black Congressional rep would be elected.

That said, Judge Lewis also found that the district had been gerrymandered to favor the Republican Party! By packing so many black voters into one absurdly-shaped district, the Republican legislature had made it easier for the GOP to win elections in the neighboring districts from which those voters had been drawn.

For the record: 

Judge Lewis was black. He'd been named to the bench by a Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles. It was the black nominee of a Democratic governor who made the findings described above—and the story continues from there:

5th District Representative Corrine Brown issued a statement blasting Lewis's decision on the district map as "seriously flawed," and Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge sent a sharply worded letter to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel complaining about the party’s support for the lawsuit challenging Florida's district maps.

Brown said that "we will go all the way to the United States Supreme Court, dealing with making sure that African Americans are not disenfranchised." Florida House Redistricting Chairman Richard Corcoran, a Republican, said that "consideration of political data is legally required" to ensure that district boundaries would not be so shifted as to not allow African-Americans a chance to elect representatives of their choice.

On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court approved a redrawn version of District 5 on December 2, 2015. That plan went into effect for the 2016 elections. The new district had a dramatically different shape than its predecessor. It now stretched in an east-west configuration along the Georgia border from downtown Jacksonville to Tallahassee. However, it was no less Democratic than its predecessor, as noted in the Florida Supreme Court's final opinion:

"With a black share of registered Democrats of 66.1%, the black candidate of choice is likely to win a contested Democratic primary, and with a Democratic registration advantage of 61.1% to 23.0% over Republicans, the Democratic candidate is likely to win the general election."

In the face of black Democratic power, the district remained heavily gerrymandered, even after the original gerrymandered map was redrawn. This is a type of "gerrymandering" in which Dems have often participated.

The key point here is this:

When a district is packed with black voters to the extent described, that means that neighboring districts will be easier for Republicans to win. From the Democratic Party perspective, the reconfigured Fifth District was full of "wasted votes."

We were struck by the disingenuity of Blow's column on an array of points. Among these problem areas, we thought he gave an absurdly cloudy picture of the way this kind of districting works.

Gerrymandering works various ways within our hopeless political system. In the matter under discussion, Florida's Republican legislature had created a heavily-black District 5 to serve the GOP's overall interests. 

Such tradeoffs have been general within congressional districting. Real life is not a fairy tale, despite the things you increasingly hear from the corporate players who are paid to play the role of blue tribe journalistic leaders.

Tomorrow: Some numbers


  1. This is why redistricting should not be a political process. Why is asimerby still talking about this? Does he imagine that he has exonerated DiSantis or impeached Blow? He hasn’t.


  2. "On the bright side, this may increase the numbers of black or Hispanic pols who get elected to the House..."

    That's "the bright side"? Hmm. And what exactly is "bright" about it, dear Bob?

    Oh yeah, sorry, you're a liberal, so you judge people by the color of their skin. Never mind.

  3. “Judge Lewis was black.”

    Judge Terry P Lewis was (and is) … not black.


    Is Somerby implying the judge used to be black, but now isn’t? That’s…stupid.

  4. Over at the Howler, it’s Blow, Blow, Blow, Blow and Blow!
    The overall point about Gerrymandering, I’m not sure Bob even disagrees with, or does he just not like hearing it from Blow?
    Bob has continually let Trump get away with
    murder because he attaches some small disclaimer to his hateful rhetoric, but Blow saying he is not calling DeSantis really rubbed him the wrong way!😊

  5. According to Somerby, diluting the votes of black people cannot be racist as long as it was done for partisan advantage.

    What would Somerby call racist? If you dilute the votes of blacks just for the hell of it?

    Of course there’s an underlying reason to do it: so that their votes won’t count as much. That’s… bigotry. Calling it “partisan” doesn’t change that.

  6. “It almost sounded like the initial gerrymandering had been done to deprive black Floridians of the ability to elect black representatives.”

    Whenever Somerby writes things like “almost sounded like”, it is a signal to the reader to beware of what follows.

    Remember: Blow’s column is about … Ron DeSantis.

    The original decision in 2014 by (not-black) judge Lewis was that the map violated the Florida state constitution because it was guilty of partisan gerrymandering.

    The Florida supreme court ruled in 2015 that the legislature’s map was unconstitutional.

    The map that is now at issue is the one DeSantis proposed, which is the one that supersedes the one drawn by the Florida legislature in response to the Supreme Court ruling. The one that eliminates several majority or plurality black districts.

    Somerby has tried to take the focus off of Blow’s point by conflating certain facts, and omitting the important part where DeSantis’s map rejects the one that more carefully adheres to the state constitution that was crafted by his own GOP-led legislature.

  7. Speaking of the (former) 5th district:

    “Six political scientists and law professors who study voting rights told ProPublica it’s the first instance they’re aware of where a state so thoroughly dismantled a Black-dominated district. If the governor prevails against suits challenging his map, he will have forged a path for Republicans all over the country to take aim at Black-held districts.”


  8. This has got to be one of the worst posts by Somerby.

    I can not tell what point he is making. He seems blinded by his rage at those who point out the obvious racism that is rampant in our society, and even more rage at those who do so tangentially.

    Somerby: Aaargh, if you are going to call someone a racist, be direct!

    Somerby: Don't call anybody a racist. Nobody is a racist, calling someone a racist is wrong and will lose Dems some votes.

    Sadly for Somerby, electorally speaking, calling out racism has and continues to be a net positive for Dems. Also a modicum of integrity motivates such calling out.

    Gerrymandering is when a district is shaped in a way to gain an UNFAIR advantage.

    Primarily the only complaint about fixing the 5th district, other than from right wingers, was from it's contemporary representative who lost out on her particular advantage. The representative also had to later plead guilty to fraud.

    The 5th district is still represented by a Black Dem!

    Also now so is the 10th district.

    This was a case of fixing gerrymandering, and it worked.

    What is Somerby on about???

  9. There is another 1/6 Committee hearing tomorrow. Somerby has been arguing that criticizing Republicans only makes them want to vote for Trump, but polls of the effects of the hearings suggest otherwise.

    Digby posted a review of before, during and after polling that shows that viewers are being affected by the hearings and that they are specifically changing their minds about whether the 2020 election was fair, whether the hearings are fair, and whether the violence on 1/6 was an insurrection.

    I urge everyone to watch tomorrow's hearing and however many they choose to present after the election. This is important to the future of our nation.

    It will be interesting to see how Somerby tries to distract from tomorrow's hearing -- that will be the talking point for the rest of the week -- keep people from talking about Trump's actions on 1/6.

    1. "It will be interesting to see how Somerby tries to distract from tomorrow's hearing"

      I predict Somerby will make some hugely obnoxious racist statement, as he has done before.

    2. Oops, forgot the link, sorry --