Voting Rights, Afterthoughts

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My old colleague and friend, Abigail Thernstrom, makes the case against minority-majority districts in the National Review.  The Nation reverts to paleoliberal stereotype in its piece on the Supreme Court's temperate 8-1 decision on an Austin, Texas utility district. The New York Times is also worried. Please. Does the Times believe that Steven Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens and David Souter have taken a crazy shift to the right? The decision seemed decidedly temperate, to me anyway. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is a serious infringement on local power and prerogatives but rightfully so given the country's history of racial discrimination. The question of whether it remains constitutional is a serious one. For the left and right, it seems like a no brainer but the Court seems to be taking a centrist position that this is a tough question without an easy answer. I found that pretty reassuring even if, I think, there's a coming showdown over this issue that won't be so temperate.

On the question of minority-majority districts, Thernstrom makes an important point about their not encouraging a centrist integrationist politics. But the answer is more subtle, I think, than she suggests. Harold Ford, Jr., the former Tennessee congressman, came out of the majority-minority district in Memphis that once elected his father. Surely, his politics are Obamaesque. And the fact that he was succeeded by a white Democrat suggests more racial fluidity in these kinds of districts than people, including me, might have thought a few years ago. Artur Davis is going to run an Obama-style candidacy for governor in Alabama, for instance, coming out of a minority-majority district. Kendrick Meek is going to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez in Florida. Districts like these seems to be yielding fewer Cynthia McKinneys.

The Supreme Court's opinion this week was mild and evasive, which is why eight justices signed on to it. But it could also be seen as the work of a body that's thoughtful, engaged, and tuned into the subtleties of American life.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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