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Dear White Women

Jul 10, 2019

Today we bring you 2 hot issues coming out of the Supreme Court, as of the end of June: 1) the citizenship question on the 2020 census and 2) gerrymandering and how voting districts are going to be drawn in the future.

The first timely topic is the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 census and Supreme Court rule that the census will NOT be including that question, based on the grounds that the Administration had given a legitimate reason for the inclusion of that question.

The second ruling relates to gerrymandering and the control level for partisan gerrymandering, and we’ll also refresh your memory on the origin of that word.

These decisions are crucial to the future of our democracy, and matters for everyone who has the power to vote because it could effectively reduce our voting power.

Hang in there with us on this as we unpack these issues. We promise this is a lot more exciting than it sounds, plus we want you to be informed as we head into the 2020 elections. 


Show Highlights:

  • The census asks many questions about the family. The question of citizenship status has never been asked before, for a variety of reasons. A lot of them relate to potential discrimination. 
  • This question has been in lower courts, or Federal courts, that exist in various states. This question was most recently in federal courts in New York and Maryland, and was finally heard by the Supreme Court during their spring term.
  • The why: in a partly unanimous opinion, the Court said that the Trump administration’s Department of Commerce could not add this citizenship question for now. The Administration’s justification for adding the question was to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
  • The Voting Rights Act was signed in to law by President Lyndon B. Johnson back in 1965, and that was in order to help overcome the legal barriers of the state and local levels that prevented black Americans from exercising their right to vote, as guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. It was allowing the right for not just white men to vote, and it’s expanded along the way to protect the rights for non-English speaking American citizens, as well.
  • Although the Administration’s justification was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court felt that the pretext was a lie, offered after the fact, to justify adding the question rather than a real reason for making that decision.
  • It didn’t say you could never add this question, but come back to us with a better reason and we’ll consider it.
  • From the President’s recent tweets, it appears that he is trying to find a “legally available path”.
  • “Legally available path” is lawyer-speak for ‘we are probably going to try and make up something that we are not sure we have the precedent for, but we’re gonna argue it anyway’.
  • Gerrymandering is not new and has been done since the founding of our nation because politicians and people in power have tried to intentionally manipulate the boundaries of election districts to stifle their opponents power and keep themselves in office.
  • For as long as gerrymandering has existed, there have been opponents of this practice that say it is anti-democratic and unconstitutional.
  • The basic explanation of gerrymandering is when voting districts are re-drawn to benefit one party over another in elections.
  • Some historians trace the origin of the word “gerrymandering” of partisan map-making to Patrick Henry, who was said to have drawn a Virginia house district for the First Congressional Election back in 1789 in order to ensure that he won. He wanted to defeat James Madison. 
  • The practice takes its name from another figure from the Revolution, Elbridge Gerry, who later served as James Madison’s Vice-President. The reason is because when he was Governor of Massachusetts in 1812, Mr. Gerry signed a bill allowing his party to draw State Senate districts that were meant to favor its candidates over the rival, the Federalists.
  • One particular district looked like a salamander, so a Boston editorial cartoonist drew it with a head and claws, and labeled it a “Gerrymander”.
  • What the Supreme Court ruled at the end of June was that Federal judges have no authority to correct partisan gerrymandering. 
  • Federal judges can’t come in and look at a district that’s being challenged, and say, ‘Mm, we don’t agree’.
  • This allows politicians to keep drawing electoral districts that entrench their power, unless state law or congress prevents them from doing so.
  • This was a very close decision, 5:4, which is why who your Justices are on the Supreme Court is crucial.
  • There is such disparity across state laws that there will be no uniform standard. 
  • This decision has ramifications for the redistricting process for federal, state, and local levels.
  • Because this comes with the 2020 census on the horizon, the census requires maps across the US to be redrawn to reflect shifts in population. So, this census opens up the opportunity to have these districts redrawn in an even more partisan manner, because map makers now aren’t going to be checked by the Court, and because Republicans currently control most State houses, they had the most to lose had the lower court rulings been upheld, and the most to gain now that they have the ability to redraw those maps.
  • This is not a Republican issue, and it’s not a Democrat issue. Both parties have used gerrymandering to their advantage at one point or another.
  • Gerrymandering is just one piece of a much broader GOP offensive to rig the system in their favor.
  • Voter ID laws have created significant barriers to voting for many black and hispanic voters.
  • Getting felons and ex-felons eligibility to vote has been such a hot issue because of the racial makeup and largely what party they’re affiliated with, which is heavily black and Democratic.


Links and Resources:



The Washington Post released a Reddit post regarding gerrymandering:


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