Is the Court Becoming the Politburo? : Following the logic of recent rulings, acts of Congress would have to be racially proportional, with quotas guaranteeing blacks their fair share of legislation.

Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant Treasury secretary, is chairman of the Institute for Political Economy in Washington.

Before long, it will be illegal for blacks to lose elections. This is the logicaloutcome of the Supreme Court's misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act to require racially proportionate electoral results.

Passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was intended to eliminate literacy tests, which were seen as barriers to black voting. However, the courts have permitted civil-rights activists to turn the law into an instrument that requires that blacks win their share of elections.

Consequently, Americans are finding that their right to elect their own leaders or to abide by majority rule may be challenged unless it produces racially proportionate results. Whenever majority rule fails to result in minority electoral successes, courts are stepping in and imposing remedies in the form of racially gerrymandered districts, cumulative voting schemes designed to guarantee the election of blacks and other circumventions of majority rule.

In two voting-rights decisions handed down June 30, the Supreme Court stuck to its proportional-results baseline. Justice Clarence Thomas, in an opinion joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, set out in clear language what the proportionality standard means for our future.

"In construing the act to cover claims of vote dilution, we have converted the act into a device for regulating, rationing and apportioning political power among racial and ethnic groups." This, Justice Thomas said, requires the Supreme Court to become "a centralized politburo appointed for life to dictate to the provinces the 'correct' theories of democratic representation, the 'best' electoral systems for securing truly 'representative' government, the 'fairest' proportions of minority political influence."

Justices Thomas and Scalia don't think the court has claims to any such role in the political life of our country. Others, however, do, and as the court's dictatorial power grows, quotas in elections are as certain as they are in hiring, promotions and university admissions.

Indeed, as the result of court cases, many electoral jurisdictions already have quotas. For example, in Jackson, Tenn., and Crenshaw County, Ala., the chairmanships of the city and county commissions, respectively, are required to rotate racially regardless of election outcomes in order to guarantee that preferred minorities will share the top job equally with other commissioners.

Unless Justice Thomas succeeds in persuading a majority of his colleagues to stick to the statutory language of the Voting Rights Act and cease construing the act to require proportional results, it is only a matter of time before the court must rule that the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, and the chief justice must be racially rotating positions in order to avoid diluting black votes.

As the logic unfolds, acts of Congress will have to be racially proportional with quotas guaranteeing blacks their fair share of legislation.

Thomas said that the court's pernicious misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act is "an enterprise of segregating the races into political homelands that amounts, in truth, to nothing short of a system of political apartheid."

Thomas admonished his colleagues that "our current practice should not continue. Not for another term, not until the next case, not for another day. The disastrous implications of the policies we have adopted under the act are too grave; the dissembling in our approach to the act too damaging to the credibility of the federal judiciary."

The court's sole black justice says that by misconstruing the act to require racially proportional results, the court is fostering racial balkanization and exacerbating racial tensions.

The approach taken to civil rights in the postwar period is problematic, because it assumes that ideas and interests are race- based. Since whites are believed incapable of representing any interest other than that of their own race, blacks must be allotted a proportional share of electoral outcomes or go underrepresented. Few have realized that this assumption that ideas and values are race-specific means that there is no common ground for resolving differences through the democratic process.

This logical impasse is why the court is taking on the politburo role that Justice Thomas decries.

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