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The Racial Gerrymandering Cases

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 1999

Andrew Altman
George Washington University


Recently, legal and social thinkers have turned to the idea that actions possess a nonlinguistic meaning, called “expressive meaning.” In this article I examine the idea of expressive meaning and its role in legal reasoning. My focus is on a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases involving constitutional challenges to election districts drawn on the basis of race. The Supreme Court used the idea of expressive meaning in striking down the districts. After explicating the idea of expressive meaning, I explain and criticize the Court’s reasoning. I distinguish the approach of Justices Thomas and Scalia, who hold that all uses of race in districting do constitutional harm, from that of Justice O’Connor, who distinguishes uses of race that do constitutional harm from those that do not. I contend that Justice O’Connor is right to make the distinction but she draws the line using a questionable standard. A more defensible standard would be more accommodating to the districts that the Court invalidated.

Research Article
© 1999 Cambridge University Press

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