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Social Science History 24.2 (2000) 415-421
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Introduction: Injustice and Scholarship
J. Morgan Kousser
Symposium on J. Morhan Kousser's Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights
and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
Colorblind Injustice largely derives from my work as an expert witness in federal voting rights cases. A vignette from one particularly important case, Garza v. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1990), and a relatively brief summary may give those who have not yet read the book both a feel for its scope and a sense of how the issues it deals with impact real people.
At an international historical conference in the mid-1980s, I met a young Russian historian, Sergei Stankevich, who specialized in America and who [End Page 415] had read and liked some of my work. In the last few years of the Soviet Union, Sergei’s political career took off, and his fluent English and keen insights into both countries won him the attention of U.S. and Soviet media. In late 1989, when Sergei was brought to Los Angeles for the first showing of an American television documentary that prominently featured him, he called me from a Beverly Hills hotel and invited me for a drink the next day. But because I was working on the Garza case and had scheduled an all-day appointment to give a deposition before a lawyer in Century City (which is where people work who can afford to live in Beverly Hills), I regretfully declined, saying, “I’m sorry, Sergei, but I’m being deposed tomorrow.” There was a long pause on the other end of the line. I suddenly recalled that while Sergei’s English was technically correct, it was not perfectly idiomatic. Unable to think of a synonym that would convey this nuance of a complicated legal system to someone from a country that barely had a legal system, I stammered out that I was “working against injustice.”
The case against the largest local government in America came out well, as the nearly 100-page paper I wrote on the anti-Latino intent of the redistricting of county supervisorial districts served as the foundation for a large part of a favorable federal district judge’s opinion and as the principal basis of a unanimous decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals, ending a generation of discrimination against Latinos in redistricting in Los Angeles County. As a result of these decisions, Los Angeles elected its first Latino county supervisor since 1874—Gloria Molina. One of her first acts was to help settle a case on “general relief,” the welfare program of last resort for the homeless. Because of Molina’s election, for a few years (until California’s severe recession caused state government to gut the program) several tens of thousands of homeless people in Los Angeles County could afford food and shelter nearly every week. Some injustice, at least, had been overcome.
But, of course, not all. For example, favorable federal laws and Supreme Court decisions had led those who drew the boundaries of election districts throughout the country in 1991–92 to make it possible for the first time in U.S. history for African Americans and Latinos to have reasonable opportunities to elect candidates of their choice. But this was too much for the “conservative” majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a series of decisions beginning with Shaw v. Reno (1993) attempted to unravel the gains that minorities had made in voting rights since the Supreme Court decision in the [End Page 416] white primary case of Smith v. Allwright (1944). Colorblind Injustice is an examination of the causes, nature, and significance of those Rehnquist Court decisions. Because the basis for the decisions, the Fourteenth Amendment, is defined by the history of race relations in this country, any full evaluation of the “racial gerrymandering” cases contains an implicit or explicit view of that history. In particular, it invites a comparison of America’s two Reconstructions.
How and why have the courses of the two U...