Washington Post columnist George Will misrepresented the effects of the Voting Rights Act to claim that it has given “a few government-approved minorities ... an entitlement to public offices.” In fact, the Voting Rights Act has made great strides towards correcting the nation's shameful history of discrimination against minority voters, but minorities are still under-represented in Congress.
In his Post column on Wednesday, Will wrote:
In Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic" -- a book more measured and scholarly than its overwrought title -- Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard says that the party has succumbed to “clientelism,” the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors.
In the 1960s, public-employee unions were expanded to feast from quantitative liberalism (favors measured in quantities of money). And qualitative liberalism was born as environmentalists, feminists and others got government to regulate behavior in the service of social “diversity,” “meaningful” work, etc. Cost notes that with the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, a few government-approved minorities were given an entitlement to public offices: About 40 “majority-minority” congressional districts would henceforth be guaranteed to elect minority members.
Following amendments enacted in 1982, the Voting Rights Act requires that state voting policies do not have the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language-minority group. The law specifies that states must give members of racial and language-minority groups the opportunity “to elect representatives of their choice.”
As interpreted by the courts, this means that states may not draw districts so that minorities are so spread out or so packed into a single district that they do not have a fair chance to elect representatives of their choice. This has led to the creation of “majority-minority districts,” in which members of a racial, ethnic, or language minority have the ability to choose a representative.
The Voting Rights Act has successfully decreased the level of discrimination against minority groups. But minority groups are far from over-represented in Congress.
Before the Voting Rights Act passed, African Americans made up more than 10 percent of the U.S. population. But there were only four African Americans in the House of Representatives, making up less than 1 percent of that body. Today, African Americans are still under-represented but significantly less so. African Americans now make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population and there are 44 African Americans in the House of Representation -- just about 10 percent of that body.
Similarly, there are now 29 Hispanic members of the House of Representatives -- about 7 percent of that body. That is a substantial increase in the number of Hispanics in Congress when compared to the period before the Voting Rights Act was enacted, but Hispanics are still under-represented in Congress given that they constitute more than 16 percent of the U.S. population.