MONDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2022
Concerning Charles Blow's column: Last week, we struggled with various aspects of this column by Charles Blow.
(Headline: Ron DeSantis's Race Problem.)
Initially, we'd been struck by several aspects of the column. We'd been struck by the way Blow was calling DeSantis a racist while insisting that he was doing so much thing.
We'd been struck by the fuzzy official language quoted in this passage:
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.”
No part of that highlighted language is especially clear. The amendment's heart may have been in the right place. But as for the amendment's head, we'd say that it was quite inarticulate in its choice of language.
Florida's voters approved that fuzzy language in 2010. We were struck by Blow's account of what happened next:
BLOW (continuing directly): 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.
According to Blow, the Florida legislature produced a gerrymandered map in spite of the fuzzy amendment. The state Supreme Court struck down much of that map, demanding that eight of its proposed congressional districts be redrawn.
We were struck by Blow's description of the existing Fifth District. It sounded like that was a gerrymandered district—but it also sounded like it might be a district which had been drawn to enhance black representation in Congress.
(That is, it sounded like it was a district which had been drawn to "allow Black voters to elect a Black representative." In the euphemistic language of the amendment, it sounded like the district had been drawn to give black voters "the ability to elect representatives of their choice.”)
Correctly, Blow said that Florida's Supreme Court ruled that the proposed Fifth District had to be redrawn. We thought you might be interested in knowing who, within that Florida Court, had issued that order, and what his stated reasons were.
From the blue perspective, Blow's column was tribally pleasing. He came out in favor of congressional districting in which "racial or language minorities" are given the opportunity "to elect representatives of their choice." But he also came out against gerrymandering, something those Republicans do.
He favored black representation, and he opposed gerrymandering! In a simple-minded way, those sound like our tribal beliefs, but we may not always understand the following fact:
Often, black congressional representation has resulted from types of congressional districting which would be called "gerrymandering" in any other context.
According to the leading authority on the topic, that very same Fifth District "was considered one of the most-gerrymandered congressional districts in the country" at the time of that judicial ruling.
According to that leading authority, this "gerrymandering" had been done 1) to increase the likelihood that the district would send a black representative to Congress, but also 2) to help the Florida GOP maintain a numerical advantage in the state's overall congressional delegation.
Blow's treatment of that history struck us as perhaps too slick by half. For better or worse, this general topic is substantially more complex than his crowd-pleasing column may have suggested.
Should state legislatures create "majority minority" congressional districts, even if a fairly obvious type of "gerrymandering" in required?
There isn't an obvious answer to that very important question. Sadly, people can have alternate views on this question without anyone being an obvious racist.
The real world isn't a fairy tale. More on this topic to come.
Tomorrow: A look at some basic numbers