Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity: The Supreme Court and the Politics of Minority Representation

Keith J. Bybee
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Mistaken Identity
    Book Description:

    Is it ever legitimate to redraw electoral districts on the basis of race? In its long struggle with this question, the U.S. Supreme Court has treated race-conscious redistricting either as a requirement of political fairness or as an exercise in corrosive racial quotas. Cutting through these contradictory positions, Keith Bybee examines the theoretical foundations of the Court's decisions and the ideological controversy those decisions have engendered. He uncovers erroneous assumptions about political identity on both sides of the debate and formulates new terms on which minority representation can be pursued.

    As Bybee shows, the Court has for the last twenty years encouraged a division between individualist and group concepts of political identity. He demonstrates convincingly that both individualist and group proponents share the misguided notion that political identity is formed prior to and apart from politics itself. According to Bybee, this "mistaken identity" should be abandoned for a more flexible, politically informed understanding of who the "people" really are. Thus, a misdirected debate will be replaced by a more considered discussion in which the people can speak for themselves, even as the Court speaks on their behalf. Engaged in the politics of minority representation, the Court will be able to help citizens articulate and achieve more fruitful forms of political community.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2277-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    For several weeks in the spring of 1993, national news coverage was dominated by the controversy surrounding Lani Guinier. Nominated by President Clinton to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Guinier drew strong criticism for her writings on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Conservatives claimed that Guinier held “breathtakingly radical” views that, if realized, would reconfigure our entire scheme of representative government. In particular, critics portrayed Guinier as a “quota queen” who wished to institute a “racial spoils system,” directly assigning legislative seats to minorities under the guise of ensuring fair representation. Guinier’s supporters denounced conservative claims as...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Voting Rights Act and the Struggle for Meaningful Political Membership
    (pp. 12-29)

    Membership within a political community is an issue of prime importance. As Michael Walzer has noted, individuals without membership “are cut off from the communal provision of security and welfare. Even those aspects of security and welfare that are, like public health, collectively distributed are not guaranteed to non-members: for they have no guaranteed place in the collectivity and are always liable to expulsion. Statelessness is a condition of infinite danger.”¹

    Important as it is, achieving membership within a political community is not necessarily the same thing as achievingequalmembership. Throughout our own history, the official rhetoric of equal...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Supreme Court and Representation: Building an Analytical Framework
    (pp. 30-50)

    The controversies surrounding the Voting Rights Act have grown sharper as the act has become more entangled in questions of meaningful political membership. As the politics of minority voting rights has moved away from issues of formal access toward issues of fair representation, the locus of debate has shifted away from efforts to secure suffrage and toward efforts to secure a significant political voice. While Congress has played an important role in the act’s evolution, it is the Supreme Court that has critically influenced the way in which minority voting rights have been framed and understood. From the introduction of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Sound and Fury: Identifying the Role of Political Identity in the Public Debate
    (pp. 51-69)

    The challenge of any Court-led politics of representation is to raise conceptions of political identity to the surface, bringing critical attention to bear on how the judiciary fashions the political community as it shapes its own political power.

    The first step toward meeting this analytical challenge requires an examination of the public debate over the adjudication of minority representation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Three basic positions have prevailed in the debate, distinguished largely by their different views on whether the Voting Rights Act should be rolled back, pushed forward, or simply maintained. Given these differences in orientation,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Early Cases
    (pp. 70-97)

    How has the Supreme Court dealt with the conceptual issues at stake in the politics of minority representation? Because the public debate has pivoted on differing conceptions of political identity and judicial authority, the question of judicial action comes to the fore.

    In this chapter, I begin my detailed study of Supreme Court opinions. Analysis of several key decisions handed down prior to the passage of the original Voting Rights Act reveals how justices initially envisioned the problem of minority representation, disclosing a fund of conceptual resources that informed later decisions. The Court’s early interpretations of the Voting Rights Act...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Later Cases: The Polarization of Judicial Debate
    (pp. 98-144)

    The early judicial encounters with minority representation generated a variety of approaches, each of which yielded claims of judicial authority that impaired democratic sovereignty. In time, the Court gradually moved away from their problematic early efforts. More specifically, reactions against White’s interest group approach led different justices to divergent conceptions of political identity and judicial authority, producing distinctly “individualist” and “group” renderings of fair minority representation. The clash between individualist and group conceptions drove judicial debate throughout several decisions, even as members of the Court offered new accounts of minority representation cast in terms of discriminatory intent and adverse effects....

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Possibilities of Legislative Learning
    (pp. 145-172)

    My argument has traveled full circle. First, I showed that the conservative and progressive views of minority representation hinged on different conceptions of political identity (chapter three). The conservatives saw “the people” as a mass of protean individuals with fungible interests, capable of striking whatever bargains the open political market would bear. By contrast, the progressives took “the people” to be a patchwork of distinct groups, capable of relating to one another only where each group interest could be fully articulated and seriously heard. The development of judicial debate (chapters four and five) resembles the larger ideological debate.¹ Abandoning an...

    (pp. 173-174)
  12. Reference List
    (pp. 175-190)
  13. Index
    (pp. 191-194)