WASHINGTON (Jul. 4)
Jewish groups have hailed two Supreme Court decisions that were widely seen as limiting the ability of the Voting Rights Act to apply to districts created to increase minority representation in government.
In the first decision, the court, in a 7-2 ruling on the final day of its term last Thursday, overturned a court-ordered redistricting of the Florida House of Representatives. And in a 5-4 split, the court also overturned a court-ordered change to expand a Georgia county commission.
The decisions were widely seen as limiting the scope of the Voting Rights Act, which passed Congress in 1965 and was amended in 1982.
Armed with 1990 census data, advocates of redistricting have increasingly sought to change legislative maps around the country to increase minority representation.
“Although discrimination and deliberate denial of voting opportunity are evils that justify a remedy, the notion that each racial and ethnic group in America has a right to electoral success in a prescribed number of seats in government is contrary to the fundamental principles of our Constitution and the Voting Rights Act,” said Anti-Defamation League National Chairman David Strassler and National Director Abraham Foxman in a joint statement issued following the court’s ruling.
The ADL and American Jewish Congress filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Florida case.
The court ruled in that case that once a minority group achieves representation proportional to its local population, there should be no move to further increase representation.
“Today’s decision, we believe, provides a solid basis for applying the Voting Rights Act, and one which we hope will put to rest the sharp controversies which have dogged the act in recent years,” the AJC said in a statement.
In the Florida case, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justices Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice David Souter in the majority. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined in part of the decision.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented with Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote that the court has in the past “given credence to the view that race defines political interest” that “should be repugnant to any nation that strives for the ideal of a color-blind Constitution.”
In the Georgia case, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta had ruled that Bleckley County must change its system of government to ensure minority representation by increasing the number of county commissioners from one to five.
The Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling that the Voting Rights Act did not permit judgments on the number of representatives in local, state or federal government.