Complained that a permanent white majorit...

LANI GUINIER

June 10, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

LANI GUINIER complained that a permanent white majorit often denies a permanent black minority the equal right to decide issues of importance to blacks.

One of her solutions is to give blacks in Congress and legislatures the right to overcome majorities. Let's take the race issue out of this and see what we have.

The 350,000 residents of the Eastern Shore are a permanent minority in the state. There are ten times as many citizens in Baltimore City and the Maryland suburbs between it and D.C.

These two groups have different interests. People on the Shore want better farm-to-market roads, cheaper energy, more, better hospitals and institutions of higher education close by. The urban and suburban citizens want commuter roads and mass transit, health care money spent in the comprehensive hospitals only their large populations can support, more dough for UMBC, less for UMES, if there's not enough for both. And so forth. Should that permanent minority on the Shore be able to veto the permanent majority in Central Maryland?

No. The progress of American democracy has been in the other direction -- toward majority rule.

A generation ago the state gave disproportionate power to small counties. In primary elections for statewide candidates, the winner in each county got "unit votes." The Eastern Shore population then was about 220,000. Shore counties had 34 unit votes. Baltimore City had 950,000 population and 42 unit votes. The Shore counties plus the three similar Southern Maryland counties, with only 65,000 population, could out-vote the city 43-42.

Most goo-goos (good govt. types) thought that was un-American and worked to change it. Rightly so. Whatever unfairness majority rule may bring, it is preferable to the unfairness minority rule brings.

A second argument in support of Professor Guinier's anti-democratic philosophy is that in the U.S. Senate, minorities often overcome majorities. The minority's device in the Senate is the filibuster. An organized group of senators gets the floor and debates and debates and debates, refusing to sit down and shut up and allow a vote on a bill the majority favors. It takes 60 votes to end (impose "cloture") filibusters. So 41 of 100 senators can get their way.

That's a lot. Here again American history has been in the direction of majority rights. Once upon a time a few senators could defeat a bill if their vocal cords and bladders held out. There was no cloture. Then the Senate said two-thirds of the whole Senate could impose cloture. Then it reduced that to two-thirds of senators voting. Then to 60. Small cliques of senators that used to prevail almost always fail now. Majorities almost always get their way.

The Constitution protects individual rights, especially those of minorities. Minority interests are something else. Racial, geographic or whatever, they must be negotiated politically. And within the present framework of government.

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