Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Supreme Court Takes up the Gerrymander

If you are concerned about the hopeless gridlock in Washington (and you should be), you should also be interested in the announcement from the Supreme Court this past Monday that it will hear arguments about whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution.

One can pretty convincingly argue that a direct line can be drawn from horrendously gerrymandered congressional districts to complete partisan gridlock in Washington. If a congressional district has been drawn to make it electorally safe for one party or the other, the incumbent has no reason to compromise or work with the other party - if he does, the voters will replace him* with another, probably more politically pure and intransigent, member of the same party. This is pretty obvious, at least to me. But is it Constitutional?

As I read the Constitution, guidelines for drawing Congressional districts aren't addressed. Article 1, Section 2 spells out the number of representatives each state is allowed (at least one, but no more than 1 for every 30,000 residents), but there's no guidance on how the districts are to be drawn, unless you squint at this statement in Article 1, Section 4 -

"The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; ..." 

... and consider redistricting to fall under the heading of "Places and Manner." The only other place the apportionment of representation is addressed is in the 14th Amendment, which says -

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed."

Altogether, that's not very much in the way of guidance, and it's led us to the mess we have today.

Here are the two most outrageously gerrymandered Congressional districts in the country**:

North Carolina's 12th District -

and Maryland's 3rd District - 

In what odd parallel universe do these district boundaries make sense other than for partisan advantage?

As I see it, the appropriate way to set Congressional districts is to have them align with existing county or parish (in Louisiana) boundaries. I suspect, however, that this would be strongly opposed by both parties, but especially Republicans, since their strength is largely concentrated in more lightly populated rural areas, rather than in large cities which tend to vote Democratic and would probably fall into single districts drawn by county.

I hope that the Supreme Court is able to establish some rational guidelines for Congressional districts, although I have my doubts, given that its political divisions mirror that of the rest of the country. Any guidelines will need to be imposed by the court, because no state, regardless of which party is in control, will be willing to do politically neutral redistricting unless there's a guarantee that every other state will do it, too***.

I'll be watching the arguments before the Supreme Court, and will be anxious to read the final decision, whichever way it goes. It's gonna be interesting.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Great Moments in Editing and Signage returns.


* You should read the pronoun as "he or she," "him or her," as appropriate to the context. I don't mean to discount women, but writing "he or she" all the time is cumbersome.

** You can look at the other 8 most-gerrymandered districts and read a good analysis of the gerrymandering issue here.

*** Nuclear disarmament works the same way.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Just naked scrimmaging for advantage by both parties.

Gonzo Dave said...

Arizona has a (mostly workable, IMO) district-drawing system - a commission that includes Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. There have been some challenges to it by the (Republican-dominated) Legislature, but I think those have all been beaten back by the courts. Our representation in Congress is 5-4, with the Rs having the majority.

Mike said...

Missouri's districts don't look nearly that bad but they are tweaked toward Republicans around St. Louis and Kansas City.

Chuck the Grumpy Cat said...

A pox on them all.

allenwoodhaven said...

I'll be following this too. The Supreme Court is always of interest. Their decisions are far reaching. What they should do and what they will do are, I hope, the same.

Duckbutt said...

There's absolutely no justifiable reason for electoral districts to be drawn in such a cockeyed manner. I hope the Supreme Court introduces rationality into the process.

Sinner Bob said...

I cant see how they got away with those districts for so long.