Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Hyper-Partisan Gerrymandering

Whitford v. Gill[1]

In Whitford v. Gill the Supreme Court will decide whether extreme partisan gerrymanders are constitutionally permissible.  In 2011 Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature adopted a legislative redistricting plan. A group of citizens filed suit claiming that the law distributed the Republican vote in a manner that produced a greater number of seats and divided the Democratic vote in a way that resulted in fewer Democratic seats. The plaintiffs contended that Wisconsin’s redistricting violated the Fourteenth Amendment and First Amendment because it dilutes voting power based on individuals’ political beliefs.

Individual justices on the Supreme Court have agreed that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but they have been unable to develop a manageable set of standards for deciding when redistricting is too partisan. The plaintiffs in this case requested the court to use an “efficiency gap” analysis to measure the discriminatory effect of political gerrymanders. The efficiency gap counts the number of votes each party “wastes” in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage. Any vote cast for a losing candidate is considered wasted, as are all the votes cast for a winning candidate in excess of the number needed to win. The efficiency gap measures how many votes were wasted when voters were “packed” into districts that overwhelmingly favored Democrats or “cracked” into districts where a Republican was already fairly certain to win.

The calculation requires totaling, for each party, the number of votes cast for the losing candidates in district races along with the number of votes cast for the winning candidates in excess of the 50% plus one votes necessary to secure the candidate's victory. The resulting figure is the total number of "wasted" votes for each party. A fair redistricting scheme will create a relatively small number of wasted votes producing an efficiency gap approaching zero. The more partisan the gerrymander, the higher the efficiency gap. Researchers have found that an efficiency gap of 7 percent will entrench the majority until new districts are drawn.[2] The Wisconsin gerrymander created an efficiency gap of up to 13 percent.

On November 21, 2016, a three-judge panel of a federal district court held that Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The court held “that the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause prohibit a redistricting scheme which (1) is intended to place a severe impediment on the effectiveness of the votes of individual citizens on the basis of their political affiliation, (2) has that effect, and (3) cannot be justified on other, legitimate legislative grounds.”

The court concluded that Wisconsin’s redistricting significantly reduced the possibility that Democrats could regain control of the Assembly even with a majority of the statewide vote. The plan produced an entrenchment of the Republican Party that was likely to endure until the next decennial census. Legitimate redistricting considerations did not justify the implementation of such a plan.

Gerrymandering is about wasting your opponent’s votes by packing them into districts where they aren’t needed or dividing them out in districts where they can’t win. A number of Republican-controlled state legislatures have enacted schemes to rig the electoral process in their favor. If the trial court’s decision in this case is affirmed by the Supreme Court voters will be able to choose their own lawmakers, rather than allowing lawmakers choose their voters. This, of course, is the way democracies are supposed to work.

[1] Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Chair and Professor of Law, University of Delaware.
[2] For more detail see: Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos & Eric M. McGhee, Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap, 82 University of Chicago Law Review 831 (2015).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Court: Texas Voter ID Law is "Unexplainable on Grounds other than Race"

Veasey v. Abbott

By Leland Ware

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Texas had become a majority-minority state. In 2010 Texas legislators enacted a law that disenfranchised an untold number of Latinos and African American voters. A civil action was filed challenging the law under the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The district court ruled that the law had a disparate impact and was enacted with a discriminatory intent. Texas appealed and a panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further findings.

After a rehearing en banc the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision on the discriminatory effect issue and remanded the discriminatory intent issue for reconsideration by the district court. In January of 2017, the Supreme Court denied Texas’ petition for a writ of certiorari but left open the possibility of an appeal at a later time. On April 10, 2017, the trial court affirmed its earlier ruling that the legislature acted with a discriminatory intent when it enacted a voter ID law.

Veasey v. Abbott was prompted by the passage of Senate Bill 14 (“SB 14”). The barriers to voting this law erected were enormous. Voters were required to present one of the following: a Texas driver’s license or personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety (“DPS”); a U.S. military identification card with a photograph; a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo; a U.S. passport; a license to carry a concealed handgun issued by DPS; or an Election Identification Certificate (“EIC”) issued by DPS.

To obtain an EIC Texas residents were required to present either: one form of primary ID, two forms of secondary ID, or one form of secondary ID and two pieces of supporting identification. This meant that any application for an EIC required either a Texas driver’s license or personal identification card or one of the following documents, accompanied by two forms of supporting identification: (1) an original or certified copy of a birth certificate from the appropriate state agency; (2) an original or certified copy of a United States Department of State Certification of Birth for a U.S. citizen born abroad; (3) U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers without a photo; or (4) an original or certified copy of a court order containing the person’s name and date of birth and indicating an official change of name and/or gender.

The trial court’s April 10 decision affirmed its previous finding that the legislature’s actions were “unexplainable on grounds other than race.” Proponents of SB 14 were aware of the potentially disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, but they passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed measures that might have reduced the adverse impact. Supporters of the ID law claimed it was needed remedy for voter fraud. This was a specious rationale. The evidence showed in person voting resulted in only two convictions for fraud out of 20 million votes cast in the decade leading up to SB 14’s passage.

Voter ID laws are part of a longstanding Republican effort to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters. The authors of a recent study concluded “[b]y instituting strict voter ID laws, states can alter the electorate and shift outcomes toward those on the right. Where these laws are enacted, the influence of Democrats and liberals wanes and the power of Republicans grows. Unsurprisingly, these strict ID laws are passed almost exclusively by Republican legislatures.”

Racial gerrymandering, restrictive voter ID laws and similar measures are part and parcel of Republican efforts to suppress the African American and Latino vote. This and other cases show that Supreme Court was wrong when it decided in Shelby v. Holder pre-clearance was no longer needed. Texas’ persistent and egregious conduct justifies the imposition of a requirement to pre-clear any changes in its voting procedures before they are put into effect.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Introducing the Jurors for the 2017 Lillian Smith Book Awards

The Southern Regional Council (SRC), founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice, established the Lillian Smith Book Awards in 1966 to recognize writing which extends the legacy of the outspoken writer who challenged all Americans on issues of social and racial justice.

Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. Since 2007 this partnership has also included Georgia Center for the Book, and the awards ceremony is now presented on the Sunday of the Labor Day Weekend as part of the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia. Excerpts from the 2008 - 2016 awards ceremonies may be viewed through by clicking on the images on the right side of this page. The 2017 awards ceremony will be held at the DeKalb County Public Library in Decatur, Georgia on Sunday, September 3rd.

This year’s Lillian Smith jury is chaired by Mary A. Twining, Emeritus Professor of English and Folklore at Clark Atlanta University.  Noted for her study of the Sea Island Communities of Georgia and South Carolina and their cultural ties to West African, her published work has included Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia, edited with Keith E. Baird (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press 1991); Names and Naming in the Sea Islands, a contribution to the Crucible of Carolina: Essays in the Development of Gullah Language and Culture, edited by Michael Montgomery and Louise Ferrell, University of Georgia Press, 1994; The New Nomads, Art, Life, and Lure of Migrant workers in New York State, published in The Journal of the New York Folklore Society 1987; and numerous contributions to the Journal of Black Studies.

James Taylor has managed the Atlanta Fulton Public Library’s Buckhead Branch and hosted the System’s Writers in Focus, “a meet-the-author” television show produced by Fulton County Television (FGTV) .  He previously managed the Library Express Department, the Circulation Department, and the Ivan Allen Reference Department.

Also rejoining the jury this year is Merryl Penson, Executive Director of Library Services for the Georgia Board of Regents.

Earl Picard holds degrees in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), where he specialized in comparative politics and the politics of developing countries. Since 1985 he has pursued a career in international development, serving stints with the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Zimbabwe (1985-88) and South Africa (1997-99). He has organized and managed training programs for professionals from the Philippines, Kazakistan, Usbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, Haiti, El Salvador, Burundi and Guinea. He has secured and managed USAID development assistance contracts in Nepal, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Egypt, Rwanda, South Africa and Benin and directed a technical assistance and training project in Zambia and a capacity building project in Ghana. He has worked as a consultant to a number of national and international organizations. Most recently, Picard has directed the Program Development and Management unit at Georgia State University.

E. Delores Stephens is a Professor of English at Morehouse College, where she teaches World Literature, Shakespeare, and British literature survey courses.  Her areas of scholarship and research include women's fiction, Caribbean literature, and biography.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Forty-Six Books Nominated for 2017 Lillian Smith Book Award

The Southern Regional Council (SRC) recently announced that forty-six books have been nominated for the Lillian Smith Book Awards for 2017 to be presented in Decatur, Georgia on September 3, 2017. 

SRC was founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice in the South. SRC initiated the Lillian Smith Book Awards shortly after Smith's death in 1966 to recognize authors whose writing extends the legacy of the outspoken writer, educator and social critic who challenged her fellow Southerners and all Americans on issues of social and racial justice. Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. The Georgia Center for the Book became a partner in 2007, when the awards ceremony first became part of the Decatur Book Festival.  Piedmont College, which operates the Lillian Smith Center, became a partner in 2015. 

The award recipients for 2016 were Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow by Cheryl Knott and Aaron Henry of Mississippi: Inside Agitator by Minion K.C. Morrison. 

The 2017 nominated books are:





American Happiness

Jacqueline Allen Trimble

NewSouth Books

Forsaken:  A Novel

NewSouth Books


Megan Volpert


Sibling Rivalry Press

The Courage of His Convictions:  A Novella


Rick Spier

Moon Donkey Press, LLC

Haylow:  A Novel

Gray Stewart

Livingston Press, University of West Alabama

The Distance to Home


Create Space



Dana Wildsmith

Ink Brush Press

A Piece of my Mind:  American Stories


John Noltner


The Cigar Factory:  A Novel of Charleston

Michele Moore (Author), Pat Conroy (Foreword)

University of South Carolina Press

Black Sheep Boy:  A Novel in Stories

Martin Pousson

Rare Bird Books


The Myth of Water:  Poems from the Life of Helen Keller  


Jeanie Thompson

The University of Alabama Press

The Making of a Racist:  A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade


Charles B. Dew

University of Virginia Press

The End of Days:  African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation


Matthew Harper

University of North Carolina Press

Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood

Wilma Dykeman

University of North Carolina Press


Crystal R. Sanders

University of North Carolina Press

J. Michael Butler

University of North Carolina Press
Transformation of American Culture:  Education and the South in the Age of Desegregation

LSU Press

Bad Girls at Samarcand:  Sexuality and Sterilization in a Southern Juvenile Reformatory


LSU Press

The Book of Isaias: A Child of Hispanic Immigrants Seeks His Own America


Daniel Connolly

St. Martin’s Press

They Can't Kill Us All:   Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement


Wesley Lowery

Little, Brown & Company

Honky Tonk Samurai:  A Hap and Leonard Novel


Joe R. Lansdale

Little, Brown & Company

Little, Brown & Company

Underground Airline

Ben H. Winters

Little, Brown & Company

Sing for Your Life:  A Story of Race, Music, and Family

Daniel Bergner

Little, Brown & Company

Alfred A. Knopf

The Summer That Melted Everything:  A Novel


Tiffany McDaniel

Macmillan, Imprint St. Martin’s Press

The Family Tree:  A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth


 Karen Branan

Atria Books / Simon & Schuster

Rapture:  Poems


Sjohnna McCray

Graywolf Press

Wolf Boys:  Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel


Dan Slater

Simon & Schuster

Hanging Bridge:  Racial Violence and America's Civil Rights Century


Jason Morgan Ward

Oxford University Press

Stamped from the Beginning:   The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America


Ibram X. Kendi


The Orphan Mother:  A Novel


Robert Hicks

Grand Central Publishing

Blood Brothers:  The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X


Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith

Basic Books

Boy Erased:  A Memoir

Garrard Conley

Riverhead Books

A Nation Without Borders:  The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910


Steven Hahn

Viking / Penguin Random House

White Trash:  The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America


Nancy Isenberg

Viking / Penguin Random House

A Pursued Justice:  Black Preaching from the Great Migration to Civil Rights



Kenyatta R.  Gilbert

Baylor University Press

Lynched:  The Power of Memory in a Culture of Terror


Angela D. Sims

Baylor University Press

New Politics in the Old South:  Ernest F. Hollings in the Civil Rights Era


David T. Ballantyne

University of South Carolina Press

Vagrant Nation:  Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s


Risa Goluboff

Oxford University Press

University, Court, and Slave:  Pro-Slavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War

Alfred L. Brophy

Oxford University Press