REDISTRICTING LAWSUIT IN JUDGES' HANDS

Sun News, The (Myrtle Beach, SC) - Wednesday, August 28, 1996
Author: Zane Wilson , The Sun News
Georgetown and other small towns were racially partitioned by state legislative redistricting, an attorney argued Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging the districts. 

``Georgetown doesn't look like America any more,'' attorney Lee Parks said in his closing statement. ``We don't divide our cities based on race.'' 

The trial, before a three-judge federal panel sitting without a jury, concluded Tuesday on its 10th day. Attorneys expect the judges to rule within a week. 

The plaintiffs say the Legislature went too far when it created new black-majority districts. New districts sprawl wildly across many counties and split counties, towns and voting precincts along racial lines. 

If the plaintiffs win, legislative elections could be delayed so that new lines can be drawn. 

One of the plaintiffs is Sen. Greg Smith, I-Murrells Inlet, whose Georgetown County-based district was changed to a narrow coastal strip running 90 miles from Surfside Beach to Mount Pleasant. The changes also mean Georgetown County probably will not have a resident senator. 

Georgetown is divided into two House and three Senate districts. The tiny village of McClellanville is divided into two Senate districts. 

Parks, winding up the case challenging the Senate lines, said the Legislature thought it was doing the right thing at the time, but the districts violate recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings which say that race can't be the main factor in redistricting. 

Gedney Howe, attorney for the Senate, said the districts are reasonable and within the discretion of the Legislature. ``We have followed what turned out to be the law,'' he said. 

Howe also said incumbency protection outweighed racial considerations when the districts were drawn. 

Judge Joseph Anderson said the plantiffs don't have as much evidence of the importance of race as they did in the House portion of the case. He said Don Beatty, a representative at the time, mentioned race 28 times in his speech on the House floor introducing the plan that eventually passed. 

Anderson also noted there was no evidence of a coalition in the Senate case, as there was in the House when the Black Caucus and Republican leaders joined to support a redistricting plan. 

Parks said, ``the devastating evidence . . . is the racial statistics of the divisions of the cities and counties that go into these districts.'' 

Judge Robert Chapman asked, ``what if incumbent protection and race played equal parts?'' 

Parks said the way the precincts and other areas were split, and the way the two challenged districts each sprawl across five counties, taking black populations from most of the towns in their path, is self-evident. 

He also said the Supreme Court rulings say that overriding concern for percentages of racial populations is evidence that race was predominant. 

Referring to testimony of Sen. John W. Matthews, D-Bowman, that the black residents of Georgetown fit better with the more rural black-majority districts, Parks said ``it is the height of racism to suggest that black people are more comfortable with rural districts.'' 

It is also the height of racism to argue that the coastal district should be mostly white, Parks said. 

Howe said the Senate acted moderately and responsibly, turning down proposals that would have made even odder-looking districts. 

He said Smith favored the plan ordered by the courts that made a coastal district running from Conway to Goose Creek. He also said Smith tried to change the plan so that he would be in District 37, the new majority-black district. 

Smith has no other purpose for complaining except his concern for re-election, Howe said. 

He said Smith acknowledged a black district made sense in that area, but that Smith didn't like the way the lines turned out. 

``Now doggone it, that's back to legislative discretion,'' Howe said. 

Georgetown was split three ways because Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Kingstree, traded territory for his District 32 with District 37. Both populations were black and both were in black-majority districts. 

``The political reality was that Yancey McGill wanted to enlarge Williamsburg County and that's a valid principle and he had the muscle to do it,'' Howe said. 

Laughlin McDonald, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the plaintiffs are resorting to ``scare tactics and demonization.'' McDonald said the plaintiffs are exhibiting the height of racism in seeking to destroy the opportunity for blacks created by the new districts. 

Chapman said the case is a difficult one and it is in a developing area of the law. Judge Matthew Perry said the judges will begin considering their ruling immediately and hope to rule quickly.

  

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