Gerrymandering: Will It Ever End?

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today went to print on June 15, 2017. (Listening Library started the process of recording the audio version several days before that.) We updated the manuscript until practically the last instant.

But, of course, politics don’t stop just because a book goes to print. The main purpose of this blog is to update our readers on developments since mid-June. And a lot has already happened!

We could tell you about recent action or reports on

  • Senate rules (Chapter 4)
  • the census (Chapter 5)
  • Puerto Rico (Chapter 6)
  • voting rights (Chapter 8)
  • presidential impeachment (Chapter 14)
  • the 25th Amendment (also Chapter 14)
  • Even what’s happening to the presidency in Brazil (yet again, Chapter 14)
  • Civics education (the whole book!)

Instead, we’re going to catch you up this time on the constitutional fault line known as gerrymandering, which we discuss in Chapter 5. Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing the borders of a congressional district to favor the members of one party or racial or ethnic group.

The Framers gave the states the responsibility for planning and holding elections, though they did give Congress the right to pass laws in the future to regulate elections.

And many states have chosen to manipulate their districts in unusual ways, in order to influence who gets elected to the House of Representatives.

PrintWe introduce the practice of gerrymandering by telling the story of Lloyd Doggett, a multiterm Democratic congressman who represents a bunch of different places in Texas. How can he represent a bunch of places? Because the state legislature keeps redrawing the boundaries of his district. These maps show the five different parts of the state, from central Texas down to the Mexico border, to which he’s been assigned over the years.

Why did the Texas state legislature, which is now largely Republican, give him new constituents every two years or so? Because they hoped to replace him with someone from their own party.

Both political parties gerrymander, sometimes to increase or decrease the number of minority members of Congress and sometimes to tilt the balance of Congress in favor of one party. The first example is called “racial gerrymandering.” The second is “partisan gerrymandering.”

 

In the last couple of weeks the Supreme Court has started weighing in on the issue of gerrymandering.

First, the court agreed with a lower federal court that had determined that North Carolina had engaged in racial gerrymandering. That’s unconstitutional, the high court confirmed.  In addition, the justices told another lower court to decide whether North Carolina should hold special congressional elections this year. That means some of the districts might be so gerrymandered that some of the state’s representatives don’t represent the views of the voters and should be replaced.

Second, the Supreme Court may well decide soon whether Wisconsin has been engaging in partisan gerrymandering. As an example, in 2014, 52 percent of the voters in the state voted for Republicans. But because of gerrymandering, more than 60 percent of the state’s Assembly members are Republican. The high court could decide whether this is unconstitutional.

As we said, “Stay tuned!” In the meantime, if you want to know more about the case, you can check out information from the Brennan Center for Justice.

As you can see, 1787 wasn’t really all that long ago. We’re still living with the consequences of the Framers’ decisions.

What you think? Should North Carolina hold new elections? Should Wisconsin redraw its Congressional districts? Let us know.

 

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. I will be extremely shocked if the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case prevail.

    The first basic problem with their case is that it relies on a very flawed metric for judging gerrymandering, “vote efficiency”. This measure is widely documented to produce false positives for gerrymandering, because it can’t distinguish between shortfalls of vote efficiency due to strangely drawn districts, and shortfalls due to the simple facts of how voters are distributed on the ground.

    There are better metrics for measuring gerrymandering,
    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jowei/gerrymandering.pdf
    And they actually do show that Wisconsin is gerrymandered! Though it’s not the worse offender, (California is a lot worse in the opposite direction.) it’s up there. This is where the second problem, and it’s a killer, comes in.

    The Voting Rights act is being interpreted so as to mandate racial gerrymandering. Any metric of gerrymandering that actually works is going to find these mandated gerrymanders to be among the worst offenders.

    I don’t believe the Supreme court is going to be able to square the circle there, banning gerrymandering at the same time as mandating it. They’ll have to chose one fork or the other.

    Thus it’s my prediction that the Court will not rule against gerrymandering until they are prepared to strike down mandated racial gerrymandering.

    ****

    Of course, the real solution to gerrymandering is at large proportional representation. But Congress has outlawed that.

    Like

  2. Thank you for joining our conversation and for sending the link to the U of M document. Have you seen the article in the latest New Yorker magazine about gerrymandering?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s