WHEN THEY carved up Rep. Tom McMillen's Anne Arundel-based district, he said he might run in a new Prince George's County-dominated district that included part of his old one.
Made sense. His stepping stone into politics was the fame he won at College Park as a basketball superstar. But some political leaders in Prince George's challenged his right to run because he is white. Re-districters drew the new lines to create a super-majority of black voters who would elect a black candidate.
This was done after the Maryland attorney general's office concluded that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires such districts.
Section 2 says procedures must guarantee blacks the "same opportunity" to participate in the political process "and to elect // representatives of their choice" as whites enjoy. Drawing district lines that diluted black votes was at issue, and that is what the court said was a no-no.
How states have leaped from that to drawing up black super-majority districts is a long story. I won't bore you with an explanation of it because (a) it is very complicated, and (b) I don't understand it.
Basically, what I am told by the legal experts is that if you can draw a black district, you must. Yet the only Supreme Court decision on the subject (Thornburg vs. Gingles, 1986) says this:
"We have no occasion. . . to consider a claim alleging that the splitting of a large and geographically cohesive minority between two or more districts result[s] in the dilution of the minority vote."
Justice Sandra O'Connor dissented in Thornburg, saying that the court's logic requires black majority districts even if the opinion says otherwise. She said, "although the court does not acknowledge it expressly, it has [created] a right to a form of proportional representation in favor of all geographically and politically cohesive minority groups that are large enough to constitute majorities if concentrated within [a district]."
Another dissent in that case raises an interesting prospect. Justice Byron White said, "there would also be a violation in a district that is 60 percent black [if] enough blacks vote with the whites to elect a candidate who is not the choice of the majority of black voters." In other words, it would be against the law for a candidate to win with only a minority of the black vote.
That's why Tom chose instead to run in the Eastern Shore district. He feared that if he ran in P.G. he would win with a coalition of most whites but a minority of blacks. At his victory celebration, the cops would show up and say, "Mr. McMillen, you are under arrest for having violated Section 2 of the 1965 Civil Rights as amended. You have the right to remain silent. Any statement by you may be used as evidence. You have the right to an attorney either retained or appointed."
That's silly, you're thinking. Okay. Right. It's not a criminal offense. They wouldn't arrest him. They'd just void the election.
! That's not silly?