Monday, April 4, 2016

Intention, not substance?

In this opening sentence from MSNBC today, the writers indicate that an idea had been proposed as part of an effort to "reduce the voting strength of the nation's Latino population." The Texas appellants argued for a novel idea that in redistricting, the state ought to use the voting population instead of the total population. The journalists have confused what may very well be an effect of the proposal with its substance.

The opening sentence is written as a judgment of the supposed intention of the proposal, not a statement of fact. The SCOTUS did not reject the reduction of "voting strength" of a particular ethnic group (though I hope and trust that they would have, given that it is unconstitutional). They instead rejected the argument that states are required to use total voters for redistricting rather than total population. The Supreme Court explicitly did not rule out the use of total voters as unconstitutional, leaving it as a question to be dealt with later if necessary.

Does the wording of the journalists make a difference? I think this is a case where sensationalism has overtaken clarity, to the detriment of the reader. Yes, the appellants were political activists and intention is relevant. But the appellants believe the principle of "one man, one vote" would be upheld by defining representation by total voters instead of total population. The substance of their proposal is not ethnic voter dilution. The article in essence assumes from the outset that the appellants were racially motivated (of course, since they are Republicans). To be fair, the news article does improve as it goes on, explaining a bit more of the actual ruling. However, the damage has been done. This is how an article can feed the perception of "liberal media bias," regardless of how right or righteous the facts are.

To read more about what it at stake in this case and a good analysis of "representational equality" and "electoral equality, read this essay.

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