gerrymandering

  • July 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service, George Washington University Law School

    *This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    When most people propose changes in our electoral system, they generally do so in order to achieve a political end, not because the change conforms to a platonic ideal of what elections should be like. So it is with the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall. Their claim is that, when states draw their legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause requires that they use the numbers of voters, instead of the number of people, as the basis for allocating seats within the states.

    The Supreme Court has ended the most blatant forms of gerrymandering and required legislative districts at both the state and federal level to be equal in composition within each state. The Court's rulings have been labeled "one person, one-vote," and the general assumption has been that, in dividing up each house by districts, the denominator has been the total population of the state.

    Evenwel challenges that assumption and argues that, because the goal of one person, one vote is to have each person's vote count the same as every other person's, the denominator should be total voters and not total population. If this were the law, the main groups that would no longer be counted are children, illegal immigrants, those not registered to vote, and felons who are precluded from voting. Until the actual lines are drawn for all the districts in a state, the results are not certain. But we do know that the backer of this lawsuit (Edward Blum) also supports Fisher v. University of Texas, which seeks the elimination of affirmative action in university admission. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that he believes that the change would have an adverse impact on minorities and their Democratic supporters, or at least it has that potential in some states, including Texas where the case was brought.

  • July 10, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    The New York Times features a debate over whether the Supreme Court has become too powerful.

    At The Atlantic, Russell Berman discusses how a bipartisan consensus in Congress could lead to meaningful reform of the criminal justice system.

    Andrew Prokop reports for Vox on the Florida Supreme Court ruling against partisan gerrymandering.

    At the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Walter Shapiro considers what gun control advocates can learn from South Carolina.

    Steven Mazie contends at The Economist’s Democracy in America blog that liberals may find themselves less satisfied with Supreme Court rulings next term. 

    Fili Sagapolutele and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher report for the Associated Press that American Samoa is holding out against the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling.

  • November 19, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Simon Lazarus argues at The New Republic that supporters of the Affordable Care Act are inadvertently recycling conservative arguments when defending the healthcare law against the latest legal challenge.

    At The Economist’s Democracy in America blog, Steve Mazie considers empathy on the Supreme Court. He argues that their “small and privileged” circles limit their perspectives.

    Stephanie Mencimer discusses the Alabama redistricting cases for Mother Jones, arguing that the state that helped gut the Voting Rights Act is now using it to justify racial gerrymandering.

    Oliver Roeder of FiveThirtyEight explains why it is so difficult to predict Supreme Court rulings.

    At CNN, Ed O’Keefe reports on Justice Samuel Alito’s recent remarks about the press and criticisms of the Court’s lack of diversity. 

  • December 7, 2012

    by Heejin Hwang

    Not long after the 2012 elections, TPM’s Sahil Kapur asked several elections experts how right-wing lawmakers were able to so easily hold their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, especially since capturing that chamber in 2010 Republican leadership had engaged in obstructionism and promoted the loopy and wildly unpopular idea of privatizing Medicare.

    Sam Wang, a Princeton University professor and co-manager of the Princeton Election Consortium, told Kapur, “The big factors are redistricting and incumbency. In the last few years, Republican-controlled legislatures were very effective at redrawing districts to favor their side. Gerrymandering gave them a built-in advantage of 1.25 percent of vote margin even before a single vote is cast. Incumbency also has its advantages, which is good for another 1.25 percent ….”

    Other states, such as California and Arizona have taken action to lessen partisanship in the creation of voting districts.

    In Nov. 2010, in adherence with the California Voters FIRST Act, State Auditor Elaine Howle randomly selected in lottery like fashion eight members the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). Two months later, the full-fledged 14-member independent commission embarked on transforming 2010 Census data into State Assembly, State Senate, and congressional district lines.

  • November 28, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Gerrymandering is such a tried and tested electioneering technique that one might think that the founders intended for political parties to draw boundaries for congressional districts to suit their interests. Given that one of the first uses of the gerrymander was on the part of Anti-Federalists in Virginia to keep James Madison out of the House of Representatives that may well be the case. But, after a round of district drawing following the 2010 census, have the parties finally taken it too far? Now that the 2012 election results are in, for the most part, we can see the effect of partisan redistricting on the composition of the House. While that effect probably wasn’t enough to shift control of the House to the Democrats, it was enough to heavily dilute Democratic voters in several key states.

    But, before getting into that, what allows political parties to exercise so much control over the process of drawing congressional districts in the first place? The Constitution mandates that congressional districts be re-drawn after every census to reflect changes in population distribution; but how this is accomplished is largely left to states’ discretion. The two bedrock principles all states are supposed to abide by are “one person, one vote,” the idea that voters in different districts should have roughly equivalent voting power; and that districts cannot be drawn for the purpose of diluting minority voting power. However, in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, the Supreme Court largely rejected a challenge brought by Texas voters that the redistricting scheme dreamed up by the Republican legislature was wholly unconstitutional, in part because the justices believed that there was no workable test for judging partisan excess.