Gingles in Limbo
Luke P. McLoughlin
Coalitional Districts, Party Primaries and Manageable Vote Dilution Claims
In the past two decades, minority plaintiffs claiming unlawful vote dilution under section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have been required to pass the three-pronged test elaborated by the Supreme Court in Thornburg v. Gingles. In light of a recent Supreme Court case extolling coalitional districts, the future of the first prong requiring the minority bloc to demonstrate it is sufficiently large and compact to comprise a majority of a single-member district is uncertain. These districts, eluding easy classification but understood to possess significant minority voting power without the minority bloc comprising a majority of the district, have been identified as shields against section 2 and section 5 suits challenging redistricting maps that reduced the number of majority-minority districts. In this Note, Luke McLoughlin addresses how courts should approach section 2 claims by minority blocs claiming dilution of a coalitional district itself. Arguing that Gingles‘s framework of bright lines must be respected in any reconsideration of the first prong, McLoughlin identifies the ability of the minority bloc to comprise a numerical majority of a party primary as a potential criterion for defining coalitional districts and a potential benchmark for considering section 2 claims. As McLoughlin shows, however, such a criterionwould be difficult to apply in practice,as internal party rules and state ballot access laws may thwart the creation of a viable coalition. Accuracy requires a fact-based inquiry into the coalition, while Gingles urges a bright-line approach. Eschewing a wholesale renovation of the Gingles framework, McLoughlin concludes that the two countervailing concerns are best reconciled by relying on Gingles‘s latter two prongs and examining population within the primary, while remaining skeptical at the totality-of-the-circumstances stage of whether a true coalition has been formed. If courts alter the first Gingles prong to permit claims by minority blocs unable to comprise a majority in a district, McLoughlin concludes that courts must retain a corresponding alertness to the interstitial role of parties, which are capable of both facilitating and obstructing coalition politics.