Thursday, January 12, 2006

Will somebody please mess with Texas?

Two distressing stories crossed paths in the news on Wednesday, and both have more than a passing acquaintance with the (cough) great (cough) State of Texas.

First, up on Capitol Hill, where hearings continue on the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito for Justice of the Supreme Court, questions on the concept of “one person, one vote” can’t help but return to the Lone Star State. The 2003 Texas redistricting plan engineered by recently deposed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his hell-spawn in the Texas State Assembly has produced seven separate lawsuits percolating up through the federal courts. Four of those suits are scheduled for arguments before the United States Supreme Court in March.

As several Democratic Senators tried to get Squirrelly Sam to say something—anything—definitive on the question of Roe v. Wade and whether it was “settled law,” Alito repeatedly prevaricated, claiming that he couldn’t comment on issues that might soon come before the court. Why then, asked New York Senator Charles Schumer (or was it Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, I suddenly can’t remember—where’s my fact-checking department?), do you reaffirm your belief in one person, one vote? The judge argued that it was because o.p.o.v. was settled, and not likely to come before him, were he to be confirmed.

Schumer (or was it Leahy?) called bullshit. There were, indeed, cases not just likely, but certain to come before the court this year. And then the Senator ticked off the four cases: LULAC v. Perry, Travis County v. Perry, Jackson v. Perry, and G.I. Forum of Texas v. Perry. The “Perry” named as the defendant in each case is Governor Rick Perry of, yes, Texas.

Important to all these cases is the concept of “one person, one vote.” And, the “person” in Texas that is being denied his or her Constitutional right, as guaranteed under the XIV Amendment, is, in most instances, African American. (Because African Americans still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, Texas Republicans aggressively gerrymandered districts to prevent African Americans from being a strong voting block in virtually any of them.)

The second story is from the Austin American-Statesman (it was published there last week, but was picked up by the national wires on Wednesday), and it is headlined: African-American children overrepresented in Texas child welfare system. The opening sentence of the story pretty much says it all:

African American children stay in Texas foster care significantly longer, are less likely to be returned to their families and wait longer for adoption than white or Hispanic children, according to a new state report.

The article points out that “African American children are no more likely than white children to be removed from their homes by state caseworkers,” which makes the statistics even more alarming. (It also makes the study’s conclusion that poverty and not racism was the major reason for the imbalance somewhat less credible, but the statistical analysis of this would be too long-winded, even for me. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure poverty is a factor, it’s just that, as reported, it can’t be the main reason African American children are overrepresented.)

Are these stories related, you know, beyond the fact that both involve African Americans who have the misfortune of living in Texas? Alas, the sad and frightening answer is, “yes.”

If African Americans are underrepresented in the Texas electorate, then so is their influence. Under such circumstances, it is impossible to imagine that they will ever get their fair share of social services, or education money, or any of a myriad of civic programs that most of us take for granted.

If Samuel Alito is elevated to the Supreme Court, he will likely be on the bench by the time the four Texas voters’ rights cases are heard. Will Alito stay true to his confirmation hearings pledge to uphold the sanctity of the XIV Amendment and the supremacy of the concept of “one person, one vote?” Or, will he find it hard to resist the pull of his own personal history (he is hardly a champion of civil rights) and the interests of his patron, self-anointed son of Texas, President George W. Bush?

And those, I’m afraid, are the easy questions. If the Supreme Court does not rule in favor of the plaintiffs in the four pending cases, do African Americans have to wait until after the 2010 census to have any hope of gaining appropriate representation in Texas—and a fair allocation of State and Federal resources? Even then, will it be possible, since Republicans are in control of the Texas State House and, more and more, of the Judiciary?

And, beyond that, even harder still: Is there a deeply entrenched racism in Texas—both institutional and attitudinal—that makes it impossible for African Americans to make any kinds of social or economic gains? Is it purely shortsighted partisan politics that had DeLay and his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), target African American voters for gerrymandering, rather than, say, promoting a slate of candidates and policies that might woo African American voters? Is Texas the new American poster-child for white revanchism? Is Texas the new Mississippi?


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