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Geography and Sovereignty: Jurisdictional Formation and Racial Segregation

Richard Thompson Ford
Stanford Law Review
Vol. 49, No. 6 (Jul., 1997), pp. 1365-1445
Published by: Stanford Law Review
DOI: 10.2307/1229349
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1229349
Page Count: 81
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Geography and Sovereignty: Jurisdictional Formation and Racial Segregation
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Abstract

This article contrasts the constitutional treatment of two types of territorially defined political subdivisions: local governments and electoral districts. The Supreme Court treats racially segregated electoral districts as constitutionally suspect while generally insulating more severely segregated local governments from constitutional scrutiny. An analysis of recent opinions involving both reapportionment and local government reveals the reason for this discrepancy: The Court generally describes the role of government in electoral reapportionment as the active creation of subdivisions, whereas it describes the state's role in local government formation as the passive recognition of private residential decisions. The article argues that, although superficially plausible, this dualism does not distinguish the electoral districts the Court attacks from the local governments it fails to scrutinize, nor should it be constitutionally relevant. The article argues that the disparate treatment of racially defined electoral districts and similarly situated local governments actually reflects a deeper tension in normative political thought between the desire for subgroup integration and the desire for subgroup representation through political solidarity. Because both desires are important, the goal of legal reform should not be "consistency," but rather a more informed effort at mediating the tension between the two desires. An analysis of social geography and normative political theory relevant to race relations suggests that almost the opposite approach would be appropriate. A very different approach from that of the Court would allow racially defined electoral districts, wherein the dominant group must still negotiate with a broader political community at the legislative level in order to wield political power, and severely scrutinize racially defined local governments, wherein the dominant group directly exercises state power without the tempering influence of a broader political conversation.

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