The Department of Justice (DOJ) is warning states not to attempt to weaken voting power among minority communities ahead of redistricting. The guidance comes as states begin to draw congressional and state legislative districts.
“Discriminatory redistricting schemes or election practices threaten that fundamental right and are illegal,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The guidance issued today makes clear that jurisdictions must abide by federal laws when redrawing their legislative maps and that the Justice Department will vigilantly assess jurisdictions’ compliance with those laws during the redistricting cycle.”
The DOJ guidance issued emphasizes “one person, one vote” and will pursue legal action against jurisdictions that “minimizes or cancels out the voting strength” of certain communities, especially those of color.
“We’re hopeful that this guidance will give jurisdictions the ability to understand their obligations so that they comply with those obligations without any need for additional enforcement by the Department of Justice,” an administration official said.
In 2013, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which gave the DOJ the right to pre-clear maps in states with a history of racial discrimination, was gutted by the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder. This will be the first redistricting since that ruling.
“Our goal this redistricting season is simple: to ensure that new maps for city councils, school boards, county commissions, state legislatures, Congressional house seats and more do not discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a protected language minority group,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division
“…[W]here jurisdictions don’t draw maps that fairly enable all citizens, regardless of race or membership in a language minority, to elect the candidates of their choice — the Justice Department will act,” the DOJ official said.
States have organized districts by breaking up minority groups across districts or packing them into a single district. The agency will also challenge states that draw districts based on the number of inhabitants in their boundaries.
Republican-led states across the country have worked overtime to establish restrictive voting laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, eighteen states have passed thirty laws that make the voting process difficult.
Wednesday’s guidance follows Attorney General Garland’s recent commitment to expand the Justice Department’s efforts to safeguard voting rights.