November 13, 2016

November 13, 2016 | Commentary on Elections, Rule of Law

Obama's Post-Presidency Agenda Revealed: Attack State Redistricting in the Name of 'Fairness'

Eric Holder will chair a new 527 political action committee, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). With that announcement, Holder revealed the deep partisanship that he tried to obscure while serving as attorney general. Yet, that partisanship drove him throughout his tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Unmentioned in Holder’s announcement of the new PAC was an executive action taken earlier this month by President Barack Obama — the most sweeping changes to racial and ethnic categories created by the federal government in decades, according to Heritage scholar Mike Gonzalez. These changes will deepen the racial identity politics that are tearing our country apart. And you can be sure that Holder’s will use them for partisan, political purposes.

Politico reports that the NDRC will “coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives” and most importantly, focus on legal challenges to redistricting to give Democrats more state legislative and congressional seats. Holder’s involvement should be no surprise given how thoroughly he politicized the Justice Department. During his tenure, he repeatedly used the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to attack Republican redistricting efforts, wage a war on election integrity reforms, and otherwise benefit his political party.

Electoral fairness?

The most amusing part of the announcement was Holder claiming, without any apparent embarrassment, that the purpose of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee will be to obtain “fair maps that represent our diverse communities.” Apparently, the way to get “fair” maps is to hire Democratic partisans like the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, who will be the new president of the NDRC.  

Barack Obama will also be working with the NDRC after he leaves office, which the Washington Post rightly called “a rare, if not unprecedented, step in the modern era.” His work for a partisan political action committee — the objective of which is to help only Democrats in their redistricting battles— is certainly a far cry from his prior claims about how the redistricting process should be reformed as a matter of fairness for all Americans.

In his State of the Union address this year, Mr. Obama said that “we have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around” and he vowed to “travel the country to push for reforms.” Apparently, however, the only reform that really interests him is one that will let Democratic politicians “pick their voters.”

Office of Management and Budget’s proposal

What makes this even worse is what happened on the day that Congress left town at the end of September. On Sept. 30, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published a proposed revision to the race and ethnicity categories used in the census and by all federal agencies. OMB gave the shortest possible public comment period allowed — one month — making it obvious that the administration is intent on finalizing this new standard before it leaves office.

The Obama administration is seeking two critical changes that could affect more than 60 million people. First, OMB wants to create a new ethnic/racial group for those whose families immigrated from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This would include peoples as different and culturally diverse as Arabs, Israelis, Persians and Berbers, although it would not include Pakistanis and Afghanis. OMB admits that this category “should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature,” which makes it obvious that this is a political classification created by government bureaucrats and progressive political appointees.

Second, Americans whose families immigrated from Latin America or Iberia (so-called Hispanics, a term which is itself a government-created classification with no scientific or anthropological basis), will no longer be allowed to declare whether they are also white, black or another race or ethnicity. The government will force them into the Hispanic classification.

Identity politics

Barack Obama has thrived on identity politics that balkanize American society. He and his political allies like La Raza and the NAACP believe that such divisions help them win politically.

But identity politics vitiate the concept of assimilation and e pluribus unum — the essential ingredient of American culture that has tied us together as a cohesive nation. When people are divided into racial and ethnic groups and taught to identify as part of those groups instead of as Americans, it is much easier for political charlatans and power-hungry politicians to manipulate them.

Enter Eric Holder’s new PAC. For decades Democrats have used the VRA to manipulate the redistricting process. Endless rounds of litigation have forced states to draw districts based on the racial and ethnic populations contained in census data. The VRA requires states to isolate black and Hispanic voters into “majority-minority” districts to assure that they can elect their “candidates of choice,” i.e., Democrats.

The OMB notice itself specifies that its new “standards” will be “used by Federal agencies for civil rights enforcement.” That includes “the requirements of the Voting Rights Act” and “reviewing State congressional redistricting plans.”

This seems to be a clear case of abusing government power for purely political purposes.

By concocting the new MENA ethnic/racial category, the Democrats will have an entirely new group classification that can be used to further manipulate the redistricting process. By forcing the Hispanic classification on those who have in the past not identified as such, the VRA can be used to ensure the number of Democratic districts will also be expanded.  

Is it a coincidence that this OMB action is occurring just as the agency’s boss, Barack Obama, and Eric Holder are forming a 527 political action committee that will be able to take advantage of it and whose purpose is to increase the number of Democratic congressional and state legislative seats across the nation? Not likely.

This seems to be a clear case of abusing government power for purely political purposes. Even more shameful is the fact that it will further divide us. We can no longer look to the White House to teach the nation that we are all Americans who share a common heritage — the belief in freedom, liberty, and economic opportunity in a country where skin color, ethnicity, and your family’s origins don’t matter.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Related Issues: Elections, Rule of Law

This piece first appeared in the Conservative Review.