Posted on July 24, 2022

Black Districts Gutted as Suburban Flight Reshapes Congress Maps

Gregory Korte, Bloomberg, July 20, 2022

There are 22 majority-Black districts in the current Congress. Next year, there will be as few as nine.

The lost seats are a casualty of highly politicized redistricting wars, with state-by-state showdowns bringing dramatic change to electoral maps that were already being reshaped by demographic forces that include a decades-long Black migration to suburbs.

Even though majority-Black districts pack minority voters together in a way that has often diluted their power, they also routinely have sent high-profile lawmakers to Capitol Hill who answer to the needs of largely Black constituencies.

That has left some Black voters worried that the new maps will marginalize their voices. The concern is especially apparent in Michigan: The state’s only two majority-Black districts have been dissolved, a move that could mean it fails to send a Black representative to Congress next year for the first time since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The changes aren’t just at the congressional level. Michigan’s new electoral maps also eliminated 10 majority-Black districts in the state legislature.


Nine states have lost at least one majority-Black district in the latest redistricting cycle, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the Census Bureau and FiveThirtyEight. Four states — Florida, Georgia, Michigan and New York — will lose two such seats. Those losses aren’t being made up in states with growing Black populations.

In June, the US Supreme Court let stand — for now — a Louisiana map that eliminated one of its two majority-Black districts. The court will take up the issue of minority representation this fall when it hears a challenge to an Alabama map that has just one Black congressional district out of seven despite a 27% Black population.

The loss of majority-Black districts reflects several factors. Black people comprise about 12% of the US population, a share that has stayed mostly unchanged over the past 40 years, while Hispanics have grown from 6% of the population to nearly 19%. Many Black voters are moving to the suburbs, where they’re living in more integrated precincts.

This year’s electoral maps are also the first to be drawn without the advance approval of the Justice Department, which had the final say on voting changes in nine Southern states until the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down that provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Meanwhile, new redistricting commissions in many states were established to take some of the politics out of the process, and they are drawing districts with fewer partisan gerrymanders — but also fewer racial gerrymanders.

Michigan’s new maps are the result of a 2018 ballot initiative. Instead of having maps drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature, the constitutional amendment gave the task to an independent commission. Their maps reduced the Republican advantage in the state’s congressional delegation and created an additional competitive district around Grand Rapids.

But it did so partly at the expense of two majority-Black districts in Detroit. The city is 80% Black, but the congressional districts it straddles will now be 45% and 44% Black.


Dozens of Black elected representatives and voters challenged the maps in court, but the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the districts.


Representative G.K. Butterfield Jr. of North Carolina, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus who’s retiring this year in part because of redistricting, sees cause for both alarm and opportunity.

“I think we’re going to see a decline in African-Americans getting elected,” he said. “It’s going to demand that we take a new approach to 21st-century politics, and that is coalition building. We’ve got to build some Obama-like coalitions.”