Minorities in Congress

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Introduction
In forming a government for the people, by the people, and of the people, our Founding Fathers developed the idea a bi-cameral legislature. This Congress, composed of the House of Representatives and Senate, thus became known as the people's branch of government. American children are taught in schools that anyone can be elected to Congress, so long as they meet the qualifications of the Constitution. So long as you meet the age and residency requirements you are indeed qualified to be a candidate for Congress.

If we take a more in-depth look at the composition of Congress we see a body disproportionate with its Nation. Congress has maintained a fairly homogenous make-up since its founding even into the year 2001. This conclusion raises no eye brows as both the executive and judicial branches of government have also maintained a very white, male, Protestant resemblance. However, Congress was formed for a distinct purpose: to represent the people of the United States of America. The melting pot of America's huddled masses has been slow in placing leaders that truly represent its demographics.

There are a number of simple and complex reasons as to why this under-representation of minorities has occurred. Who is the real minority in Congress? This is not a simple partisan question, though it seems partisanship is a factor. An examination of the composition of the current, 107th Congress will lend greater light on where Congress stands as a representative body. A quick laundry list of the minorities in the United States being under-represented might read as such: African-Americans, Women, Black Women, Hispanics, Gays and Lesbians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Indians (Native Americans). All of the above groups have a unique history in struggling for greater representation. We now examine some of those histories in trying to answer why America's Congress does not look like America's people.

While Voting Rights legislation had a great impact on changing the composition of Congress, other factors exist as barriers to minority representation in Congress. One of these is the use of single-member districts. Of great debate as to whether it is helping or hindering minority candidates is the establishment of minority districting and the use of racial gerrymandering. The question of constitutionality and these districts has come before the Supreme Court with mixed results. Congress Today

How much progress have we made? The 2000 elections introduced the 107th Congress. While the body has diversified, the U.S. Congress remains a largely white male institution. Currently, there are no black or Hispanic senators. Nine percent of House members are black and four percent are Hispanic. For comparison, Blacks comprise thirteen percent of the U.S. population and Hispanics twelve percent.

Women historically fare better, particularly in the Senate where they now hold thirteen seats, the most seats in history. The 435-member House has 59 women members, up slightly from the 56 of the 106th Congress. These numbers translate to approximately a fourteen percent membership for women in the House of Representatives. While women have gained seats in Congress, this thirteen/fourteen percent composition is lacking considering women make up about half the population.

As society becomes more "minority-aware" a focus has turned on a sections of the population previously hidden or unheard. Three House members are openly gay, and two lawmakers, Senator Max Cleland, and freshman Representative Jim Langevin, both democrats, use wheelchairs. These numbers indicate today's Congressional members are overwhelmingly able-bodied and heterosexual.

The Senate is prone to even less diversity with 2001 seeing no change in its minority composition. The Senate's fair-skinned minority population stayed at three: Hawaii's Daniel Akaka, a native Hawaiian; Daniel Inouye, an American of Japanese descent; and Colorado's Ben...
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