By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Today, there are 56 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sitting in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Most of them were elected in Congressional districts in the South and the caucus has been a viable force in lobbying and supporting legislation benefiting African Americans and other marginalized groups.
But because of political redistricting by Republican-controlled state legislatures, that 56-member caucus could be reduced in the upcoming midterm elections in November 2022.
Black Democrats once complained about legislatures packing Blacks into voting districts to create them and diluting the community’s power.
But this assured a bloc of Black lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures to address economic and political issues facing Black voters.
Michigan may lose all of its Black Congresspersons.
Today the state has only two majority-Black districts. Though a Democrat is the governor, a Republican-controlled legislature drew new districts that will deter the state from sending a Black person to the U.S. Congress since 1965.
“This is a political story no one is talking about,” said Dr. Eric Claville, Director of Center for African American Public Policy (CAAmPP) Norfolk State University.
Claville said that Republican-led legislatures are taking advantage of two Supreme court rulings on Black legislative representation and voter protection.
In 1986 with Gingles vs. Thornburg, South Carolina Blacks sued when the state created only one majority African American congressional district out of 7. They said more districts could have been created where they could elect candidates of their choice and win.
Now the majority of Republican Legislatures in the North and the South are passing laws that are restricting voting rights, along with drawing and approving redistricting plans that reduce the number of majority Black Districts.
Opponents of the moves have little recourse.
This is due to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court striking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, (VRA) which weakened Gingles if Republicans are in control of the redistricting.
Section 5 called for states to submit changes in voting districts and procedures like relocating precincts to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) “pre-clearance” to assure it did not discriminate against Black or other minority voters.
But the high court said that Section 5 was not necessary since, in its view, there were no obvious examples of Blacks facing such electoral barriers based on the data the DOJ presented to the justices.
This is the first post-census redistricting cycle, where Section 5 is not being applied since 1965.
Nine southern states including Virginia were covered by the “preclearance” provision of Section 5. These states applied the most stringent anti-Black voting barriers.
The year the VRA was passed the first African American Congressmen from Michigan Charles Diggs, was elected.
Virginia has two Black Congresspersons and both are Democrats: Robert “Bobby” Scott and Donald McEachin.
Scott, the state’s first Black Congressman since Reconstruction, has been in the U.S. House since 1992.
After the commission missed its deadline for approving map proposals and the Virginia Supreme Court assumed authority over the process, the two special masters selected by the court released proposals for House and Senate districts on December 8, 2021.
McEachin and Scott were drawn in safe districts.
But the new district was a setback for Black representation in the State House and Senate.
In Virginia, new redistricting efforts reduced the number of majority Black House of Delegates members from 17 to 7.
But for the state Senate, Democrats say that with the new districts at least six Black representatives could be elected to that body after the 2023 elections.
Elections for those new state House and Senate districts will not be held until November 2023. Democrats are hoping to field Black candidates who care to compete in new districts which now have no representatives.
Two of the most powerful Black State Senators Louise Lucas and Lionell Spruill were drawn into the same Senate District – 18. Now they must run against each other.
Claville said that Blacks must now build voting coalitions with White Democrats and Independent voters in these new districts, akin to the one which allowed former President Barack Obama to ascend to the White House.
But he noted that these coalitions may not assure that issues impacting Black constituents will be fully addressed by a White lawmaker.
Nine states have lost at least one majority-Black district in the latest redistricting cycle, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the Census Bureau and FiveThirtyEight.
Four states — Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and New York — will lose two such seats.
In June, the US Supreme Court let stand — for now — a Louisiana map that eliminated one of its two majority-Black districts. The court will take up the issue of minority representation this fall when it hears a challenge to an Alabama map that has just one Black congressional district out of seven despite a 27% Black population.
Black people comprise about 12% of the US population, a share that has stayed mostly unchanged over the past 40 years, while Hispanics have grown from 6% of the population to nearly 19%. Many Black voters are
moving to the suburbs, where they’re living in more integrated precincts.
“This has been happening through gerrymandering …for 50 years,” said Oliver Cole, president of a neighborhood association in a predominantly Black middle-class neighborhood in Detroit. “It’s not something that arbitrarily happened.”
The disappearance of these districts could erode Black representation in Washington at a moment when corporate America is responding to the The Black Lives Matter movement by seeking to add more people of color to boardrooms and C-suites. And it is already shaping who joins the fray in Michigan politics and how candidates there are waging campaigns.