Increased representation for racial minorities has been a hopeful feature of American political life. Recent Supreme Court rulings, however, raise doubts about the future of that trend.
Last week the high court struck down congressional districts in Texas and North Carolina that were purposefully - and bizarrely - drawn to give blacks or Latinos a voting edge. Adhering to precedents laid down in 1993 and 1995, the five concurring justices sided with white plaintiffs who said their rights were violated by such racial gerrymandering.
The determination of the court majority to ban the use of race as a guide for drawing district lines opens a stream of questions. How, then, are Southern states, with their history of blocking black representation, going to meet the demands of the federal Voting Rights Act? Are largely minority districts being held to a standard of relative compactness that doesn't constrain districts gerrymandered for purely political reasons? Do these rulings nudge the country toward other, more far-reaching solutions, like proportional representation?
Above all, the court's rulings should not be interpreted as a retreat from the goals of the Voting Rights Act. Greater political participation by African-Americans, Latinos, and other groups is vital to American democracy. It must be advanced, whether through redistricting that clears legal hurdles, or other means.
This is not solely a matter of electing representatives whose skin color is black or brown. The main thing is that all citizens' concerns be listened to and addressed, not pushed to a powerless periphery.