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Redistricting demands consistency, not opportunism

The slow demographic changes wrought by population shifts have been given a push by the fallout of the 2005 hurricane disasters, and simultaneously has invited in political opportunism.

Through legislation and legal maneuverings, certain interests in Baton Rouge are trying to get the city’s judicial system redistricted. They argue since 1993, when it was last done to create three majority-white and two majority-black districts, Baton Rouge now has a majority black population.

But there are two problems with that argumentation. First, Baton Rouge does not have a majority black population according to the 2000 census (on which state jurisdictions typically base their districting decisions), only a plurality black majority – non-blacks outnumber blacks by about a thousand. Secondly, voting rights cases typically, but not always, use voting age population as the guideline by which to make these decisions, not total population, and the 2000 census gives whites a majority of around 10,000.

However, another argument is being run that changes brought about by the hurricanes ought to be included into the decision calculus, justifying a 3-2 districting in favor of majority-black. This confuses the issue more because nobody knows what the new census of Baton Rouge would be. The best estimate gives Baton Rouge about 28,000 more people, but where are what people of what racial background living, and how many plan to stay?

Even if these necessary details could be ascertained (how and at whose expense?), it would create an unusual precedent, redistricting between censuses. Even in the recent case of Texas doing it between censuses, it has been justified because boundaries had been drawn by courts outside of the normal process. And there are many larger jurisdictions across the country adding both higher raw numbers and percents of population than Baton Rouge and they do not change districts in mid-decade.

Yet, if despite all of this the supporters and plaintiffs argue that this must be done, then it must be done consistently and fairly. That is, the rest of the state’s judicial and legislative districts should be redrawn because of the population changes from the disasters. Otherwise, there can be no justification for such a move made in isolation in Baton Rouge for political or legal reasons other than blatant political opportunism that disserves the citizenry.

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