When a splintered U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that creation of bizarre-shaped congressional districts along racial lines was unconstitutional - unless a "compelling" government interest could be shown - the justices didn't really solve anything. In fact, they almost guaranteed the issue would be bounced back into their laps.
That is now happening as lower courts are reaching wildly different conclusions based on the same Supreme Court ruling. In each case the losing parties have vowed to appeal.Part of the problem is that the Voting Rights Act of 1982, which sought to require certain racial outcomes in elections, is still in force and is the philosophy behind most of the redistricting and voting manipulations.
In Louisiana earlier this year, a panel of judges followed the Supreme Court lead and declared racial gerrymandering illegal, thus eliminating a radically drawn congressional district.
But in North Carolina this week, a panel of federal judges voted 2-1 in favor of two grotesquely shaped congressional districts - the same districts that already had been frowned on earlier by the Supreme Court.
In coming to their decision, the North Carolina judges said the oddly shaped districts were legal because they furthered a compelling state interest in correcting past injustices.
But some of the arguments seemed to stand logic on its head. The judges admitted that the peculiar districts were a drastic remedy, but justifiable "in order to continue the laborious struggle to break free of a legacy of racial bloc voting."
How's that again?
Gerrymandering designed to lump blacks into districts that produce black members of Congress is breaking free of racial bloc voting? It appears to accomplish just the opposite - what Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor earlier described as a form of voter "apartheid."
The problem with the Voting Rights Act of 1982 was not that it guaranteed the right to vote, as did the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nobody objects to that. The problem is that the amended law sought to guarantee a certain outcome of the voting - one based on race. But guaranteed results are not what voting is all about.
Until Congress and the courts come to terms with the contradiction of trying to produce what amounts to racial quotas by the ballot box, lawmakers and judges will be forced to continue to wrestle with problems such as bizarre gerrymandering, weighted voting and other tricks.
How much better and simpler it would be to encourage voting on personalities and political platforms instead of skin color.