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The legal (de)construction of geography: race and political community in supreme court redistricting decisions

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This article examines the different conceptions of racial identity and 'geography' in two landmark Supreme Court decisions, Shaw v. Reno (1993) and Easley v. Cromartie (2001). Both decisions evaluated similar Congressional redistricting plans in North Carolina, but reached opposite conclusions. In Reno, the Court based its reasoning on the 'objective', 'natural' and 'rational' geography of North Carolina. Such geographic relationships create political communities and constrain the way in which state legislatures can draw electoral districts. In contrast, the Easley decision based its reasoning on voting behaviour, and makes an implicit appeal to deliberative democratic principles. From this perspective, political relationships create the geographic relationships defined by Congressional district boundaries. Where the Reno decision treats race as an arbitrary social distinction that the state should not use as the basis of political representation, the Easley opinion argues that the state can consider differences in racial voting behaviour during the redistricting process. More fundamentally, the Easley decision implies that racial identity is formed by deliberative political communities, rather than being an objective, static characteristic. This suggests that disputes over spatial relationships are critical to the construction of hegemonic racial identities, and that space is fundamental to the conception of racial difference.

Keywords: gerrymandering; hegemony; legal geography; political representation; racial identity; redistricting

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography Dartmouth College Hanover NH 03755 USA

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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