Majority-Minority Districts: Racial and Ethnic Minorities

In this paper, I will examine the intention and the purpose of the majority-minority districts- the act of redrawing lines in which the majority of constituents in the district are people of color allowing them to elect candidates of choice and give them quality representation. Specifically, I will focus on: What is majority-minority districts? What is the intent and purpose of majority-minority districts? What have been the consequences of implementing majority-minority districts? Have racial and ethnic minorities' quality of congressional representation improved? There will be several arguments throughout the paper. First, using historical evidence from the past specifically before the Voting Rights Act and the level of representation during those times. Second, I will review the different supreme court cases and demonstrate the reason that majority-minority districts are important and what they were meant to offset. Third, I will prove how after the implementation of the majority-minority district there was a rise of political participation and representation for racial and ethnic representations. Finally, I present if were we are today is majority-minority districts are still needed.

The concept of majority-minority districts is an important topic that affects Congress today. We just had a historical midterm election in Congress where more women and specifically more women of color have been elected and the questions that will be answered throughout this paper will determine if having majority-minority districts will allow us to continue to be able to have more racially and ethnically diverse House and Senate. This is also important as the parties become more polarized it is important that minority voices are being heard and officeholders are listening to them as well as working for them as well.

What are Majority-Minority Districts?

Majority-Minority Districts are districts in which a racial minority is the majority of that district's total population. Majority-Minority Districts are meant to enhance the probability of a racial minority being elected to Congress. Since it is meant to elect more racial minorities into Congress it, in turn, will cause more minorities to participate in the political process. The development of majority-minority districts came about through the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965, it outlawed the discriminatory laws and policies that deny Americans the right to vote based on race. A condition in the Voting Rights Act is that whenever states wanted to change election rules they had to be precleared from either the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia or the U.S Attorney-general. The George H.W. Bush Justice Department used the preclearance rule in order to oblige states to maximize the number of majority-minority districts that they had. According to Davidson “During this time, fifteen new majority African American districts were created, thirteen of them in the South, along with nine new majority Latino districts”.

The creation of majority-minority districts is meant to be a positive action in order to help minorities, at times gets criticized. The reason that majority-minority districts get criticism is because it reminds people of racial gerrymandering. Racial gerrymandering according to Davidson is “the deliberate and arbitrary distortion of district boundaries for racial purposes”. The difference between the two is that racial gerrymandering is meant to disempower minorities. This was used after the Fifteenth Amendment that granted slaves the right to vote, and Southern states would concentrate their black population into a single congressional district, so it will leave the other districts as majority white. They did this to ensure that minorities specifically African Americans will not be able to have power. Blacks were systematically packed as just written previously or they would be cracked meaning that they would be spread out to ensure that even if they voted it would have no influence of who was elected. The purpose of “packing” or “cracking” is to weaken minority electoral influence.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph that stated, during the George H.W. Bush presidency there was a push in the creation of majority-minority, we saw an increase in the number of minorities elected to legislative office. According to Grofman “ in 1990 African-Americans comprised only 14 percent of the Louisiana state house despite a black population of state-wide of almost 31 percent, and less than 4 percent of the Mississippi senate despite a state-wide black population of slightly less than 36 percent”. This disproportionate that is seen in the population of minorities with the representation they have or the lack of representation displays the disempowerment in their electoral legislation. During the 1990s with the push of majority-minority districts, we see an increase in minorities being elected. For instance in Goffman “the number of African-American representation in the South: the number of African-Americans serving in Congress rose from 5 to 17, and the number of African-American state legislators increased in every southern state with the largest gains in Louisiana and Mississippi”. This factual evidence displays that when minorities are in majority-minority districts that they use this power to elect minorities as themselves to have representation that they deserve in national legislation as well as state legislation. As we will continue to see in the next session we will see in-depth how the majority-minority district came to be as well as Supreme Court cases that have helped established them.

What is the intent/ purpose of majority-minority districts?

The Voting Rights Act is an important legislation piece that was created to fight the Jim Crow laws that were in place in the 50s and 60’s signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The Act was meant to get rid of the literacy test, and other systematic practices that disenfranchised African-Americans from voting, specifically in states were the voter registration or turnout was below 50 percent in the 1964 elections. The Voting Rights Act had one main purpose and that was to provide ballots for southern blacks. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act according to King “ required Justice Department ‘pre-clearance’ of new voting rules adopted by such jurisdictions, a dramatic and forceful expression of federal power”. The effect of Section 5 is that the number of black voters increased as well as the number who were voting, but it do not increase the number of people holding office. Section 5 according to Berman Earl Warren wrote “The Act gives a broad interpretation to the right to vote, recognizing that voting includes ‘all action necessary to make a vote effective” in the landmark 1969 decision Allen v State Board of Elections.

There are different court cases that have contributed to the development and have also jeopardized majority-minority districts. Several white Americans stated that the districts violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law. These legal battles created the Courts to become more involved in the congressional districts. There were several cases making the Court try to balance two competing ideas: one, the idea of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection requiring states not to discriminate on the basis of race, which generates scrutiny, and the second idea of the Voting Rights Act protection in Section 2 against redistricting plans that take away the ability of minorities to elect their candidate of choice. In 1970 the Voting Rights Act added three counties in New York City- Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), and the Bronx- since they were using literacy tests and voter turnout was less than 50 percent. New York had to submit there redistricting plan for the state legislature. The Department of Justice advised the that they create two districts in Brooklyn that have a minority population of about 65 percent enough to elect a minority representative. The minority population was made up of black and Puerto Ricans, this creation of two districts caused the Hasidic population to be spread out. Hasidic stated that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments forbid race to be a point of consideration when redistricting. This case went to the Supreme Court were according to Berman the federal government-backed New York stating “ You cannot do redistricting without having racial considerations in mind unless you are willing to forget about the Voting Rights Act”. Berman continues to state “ Compliance with the Act in reapportionment cases will often necessitate the use of racial considerations in drawing district lines”.

Court case Easley v. Cromartie clarified an important point that districts can majority-minority districts can be sustained unless race was the predominant factor in the creation of a district. One of the most important court cases in today’s politics in regards to majority-minority districts is Shelby County v. Holder the decision, in this case, was that the decades-old preclearance rule was invalid. This case affects majority-minority districts because without the preclearance rule Congress will have come up with new criteria and that won’t happen as Congress isn’t known for their fast action. This means that these communities can face discriminatory voting laws and will need to file lawsuits themselves or wait for the Justice Department. Shelby v. Holden was in 2013 and in 2019 we are seeing the effects that are occurring with the decisions the Supreme Court made. There have been voter-identification laws that target poor people, people of color, and elderly people that have been in place in states. The Atlantic used a court case in Texas where the Republican Party had intentionally diluted black and Latino votes in legislative and state maps that it had redrawn after racial gerrymandering challenges in 2011. This is one example of how Shelby v. Holden has affected majority-minority districts consequentially.

What are the consequences of having majority-minority districts? Has racial and ethnic minorities' quality of congressional representation improved?

With the research that has been done, it has been shown that with the Voting Rights Act specifically Section 5 we have seen an uptake in the amount of majority-minority districts they were as well as how many minorities were elected. I’m going to look more closely to two minority groups; African-Americans and Latinos and see the continuing growth throughout the years. If we look at the data Grofman presents and chose a specific state, for example, Mississippi we see that in the year 1990 the percentage of the black population was 35.5 percent and the percentage in the State House was 16.4 percent. Compare that to two years later in 1992 we see an increase. The percentage of the black population remained the same at 35.6 percent but we see there was an increase in percentage in the State House to 26.2 percent. This data shows us that in as little as two years the percentage of African Americans in legislation grew by ten percent. This shows that the percentage of African-Americans in the State House is closer to the percentage of African-Americans in the state of Mississippi showing that African-Americans are obtaining the proportional representation they deserve. When we look at the data showing the percentage of Majority African-American districts Electing African-American Legislators we see that in Mississippi in 1990 they were elected at 59.4 percent and in 1992 we see they elect at 84.2 percent. This is evidence that black legislators are elected for majority-black districts. This means that African-American electoral representation increased only because the number and the effectiveness of majority-black districts increased.

If we look at the Latino data according to Grofman we see that in 1990 Latinos were underrepresented relative to population proportions. In 1990 Latinos were over 25 percent of the population in California but held only 5 percent of the state house sets and less than 8 percent of the state senate seats. Fast forward to 1992 and we see that the percentage of California state house seats occupied by Hispanics increased to 10 percent but stayed at the same level in the state senate seats. An explanation for this according to Grofman is “one of the primary reasons that fewer Hispanic districts were created is that it is easier to draw majority African-Americans seats than majority Hispanic seats: African-Americans tend to be more residentially segregated than Hispanics”, ” This has created legislators to be more ethnically and racially diverse has also come at a price to minority voters.

A consequence in having majority-minority districts is that minorities are concentrated in districts that they become the majority making their votes almost a waste by having this outsized electoral majority for the winning candidate. The racial minorities population has grown faster than the number of House districts that elect minority representatives. Bland states “that after 2010 redistricting it determined that minority voters were more concentrated in few House districts than they were after 2000 redistricting”. Having this concentration of minority voters in districts causes the wipe-out of surrounding nonminority districts and takes any type of leverage minorities might of have had.

According to Davidson, there is evidence that racial redistricting has caused the Democratic party’s southern meltdown since the 1990s. Having minorities who tend to be Democratic in safe districts that are typically in an urban areas. This has left room for the GOP to strengthen in the suburban and rural areas. David Lublin a scholar has described this situation a “paradox of representation” in which majority-minority districts create more minority lawmakers, but at the same time has to lead to a more conservative House that has reduced minorities’ leverage and influence over legislation.

Since this paradox is existing in today’s politics people are reconsidering if having majority-minority districts is the best way to go in advancing minorities' interests.

Looking Forward: Is there a better way than majority-minority districts to advance minorities' interests?

A strategy that people are looking towards enhancing the political influence of minorities is to have a good number of ethnic and racial voters about 40 percent in large districts. This way officeholders are responding to minority needs. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C has said “ It’s better to maintain a 35 to 40 percent black district where blacks would have a tremendous influence on elections. I don’t think you need 75 percent in order for a black to be elected”. In today’s politics, racial gerrymandering and majority-minority districts are becoming blurred. This is occurring because the GOP are using majority-minority districts who already have a high percentage of minority voting-age population and then when the lines are redrawn they would add to more minorities into that district. This in turn becomes racial gerrymandering because it dilutes the ability of minorities to compete in and influence other legislative elections while at the same time it allows the GOP to be elected in districts are wiped clean of minority voters.


Majority-Minority Districts are districts the majority of that district's population are racial or ethnic minorities. It’s meant to help minorities be elected as well as help to increase the number of minority voters. It came to be towards the end of the 60s with the signage of the Voting Rights Act. This was an important piece of legislation since it was meant to tear down the systematic practices that were placed to prevent minorities historically African Americans from voting. It also included an important concept which was Section 5 that had the concept of preclearance making sure no shady laws were being created to prevent minorities from voting. This also started the majority-minority districts in which Bush used preclearance to make states create more majority-minority districts. As the data that was gathered during this research shows that it increased the number of majority-minority districts as well as the number of minorities elected into legislative positions. Unfortunately like all good things that come to an end, majority-minority districts might come to an end because the GOP has used majority-minority districts to add more minorities into those districts allowing the surrounding districts to be wiped clean of minorities. This has disenfranchised minorities and is bordering on to racial gerrymandering. Throughout the research and seeing the different strategies that are being thought of to deal with this political climate has made me think hard of instead of having majority-minority districts to have districts were racial and ethnic minorities constitute 40 percent of the population that way the districts become influence districts and elected officials need to hear and listen as well as work for minorities.

07 July 2022
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