Category Archives: Redistricting

Amend the Constitution to reform the U.S. Senate

While the U.S. Supreme Court grapples with the question of ending partisan gerrymandering of House seats, little attention is paid to the truly undemocratic Senate where each state, regardless of population, has two senators, the result of the Connecticut Compromise between the large states which wanted equal representation in Congress based on population, and the smaller states that worried about losing autonomy to the larger states. The undemocratic nature of the Senate offended many of the framers but it was necessary in order to obtain ratification of the Constituion by the states. It was a compromise of political expediency that has long since outlived its purpose.

America has developed from a rural agrarian society in 1787 to an urban population overwhelmingly concentrated in large metropolitan cities. This has resulted in the United States now being a non-majoritarian democracy, in which small rural states weild a disproportionate share of political power over the majority living in more populous states.

Population Map

E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann,the authors of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported,” explain this dynamic in an op-ed today, Why the majority keeps losing on guns:

Why does our political system make it impossible even to consider solutions to gun violence? After the massacre in Las Vegas that has so far taken nearly 60 lives and left more than 500 injured, the first reaction of the many politicians who carry water for the gun lobby was to declare it “premature” to discuss measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The “premature” word echoed from President Trump’s White House on down, and those who used it were really saying that Congress would never enact even modest efforts to prevent mass shootings. This is damning evidence of the stranglehold that far-right lobbies have on today’s Republicans, who extol law and order except when maintaining it requires confronting the National Rifle Association.

But something else is at work here. As we argue in our book, “One Nation After Trump,” the United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. Claims that our republic is democratic are undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy. Nowhere is the imbalance more dramatic or destructive than on the issue of gun control.

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Justice Kennedy is the key vote to ending partisan gerrymandering

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Gill v. Whitford on Tuesday, in which the justices will decide whether Wisconsin’s electoral maps are the product of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

From the oral argument transcript, it appears that Justice Anthony Kennedy is seeking an answer to end partisan gerrymandering, and he will be the decisive vote.  If so, he will be the author of the opinion in this case, and he will influence other redistricting cases from North Carolina, Virginia and Texas on the court’s docket.

Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog reports, Argument analysis: Cautious optimism for challengers in Wisconsin redistricting case?

The district court may have regarded this case as a “straightforward” one, but few justices seemed to share that sentiment today. That’s not particularly surprising, because the issue of partisan gerrymandering has deeply divided the Supreme Court in the past. Thirteen years ago, the justices rejected a challenge to Pennsylvania’s redistricting plan, with four justices agreeing that courts should decline to review partisan-gerrymandering claims, because it is too hard to come up with a manageable test to determine when politics plays too influential a role in redistricting. Four other justices would have allowed courts to review partisan-gerrymandering claims. That left Justice Anthony Kennedy, who agreed that the Supreme Court should stay out of the Pennsylvania case but suggested that courts could play a role in reviewing partisan-gerrymandering cases in the future if a workable standard could be found.

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SCOTUS to hear partisan gerrymandering case today

This morning the U.S. Supreme court will hear oral argument in Gill v. Whitford, in which the justices will decide whether Wisconsin’s electoral maps are the product of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog has a detailed preview of the legal posture of this case and the claims being assertedon appeal.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder writes at the Washington Post, Redistricting has broken our democracy. The Supreme Court should help fix it.

When the Supreme Court hears arguments today in Gill v. Whitford, contesting Wisconsin’s legislative map, it will have a chance to rein in an aggressive new breed of data-driven gerrymandering that divides communities and diminishes the voice of many Americans. The record is clear, and the Supreme Court must take this opportunity to protect the right to fair representation that is embedded in our Constitution and our values.

I’ve spent a lot of time with maps since finishing my term as attorney general and dedicating my time to a push for a fair redrawing of legislative districts. These maps — created as a result of some Republicans’ bad faith redistricting efforts after the 2010 Census — are impressive in their geographic creativity but destructive to the representative democracy that our founders envisioned. Republicans created a House seat in Ohio that is only contiguous at low-tide; a House seat in Virginia that can only be connected by a boat ride on the James River; and a House seat in Michigan that is shaped like a snake and designed to pack as many minority voters into one district as possible.

Many Republicans across the country have wielded the gerrymander to manipulate the people’s right to vote into unconscionable partisan advantage. In 2012, Democrats won 1.5 million more votes than Republicans in races for the  House of Representatives, yet Republicans gained a 234 to 201 seat advantage. In 2016, despite winning fewer than half of all votes for the House, Republicans still held an advantage of 241 to 194 House seats. A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that partisan gerrymandering has created a “durable majority” of 16-17 seats for Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Just seven states, where the maps were drawn and approved solely by Republicans, account for almost all of this bias.

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First Monday in October: A preview of the Supreme Court term

The U.S. Supreme Court term begins on the first Monday in October. The Court is now at full strength with nine justices, with Neil Gorsuch having been installed by Tea-Publicans after an unconstitutional judicial blockade of over a year of President Obama’s nominee to the high court. This does not bode well for what to expect from Justice Gorsuch,who accepted the nomination under such tainted circumstances,  or from the five conservatives who now comprise the majority on the court.

Supreme Court

This portends to be another landmark year after a relatively modest term last year. The New York Times’ Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak has a good preview of the current “hot topics” on the court’s calendar. Back at Full Strength, Supreme Court Faces a Momentous Term:

The new term is studded with major cases likely to provoke sharp conflicts. One of them, on political gerrymandering, has the potential to reshape American politics. Another may settle the question of whether businesses can turn away patrons like gay couples in the name of religious freedom.

The court will hear important workers’ rights cases, including one on employers’ power to prevent workers from banding together to sue them. Perhaps the most consequential case involves fundamental principles of privacy in an age when cellphones record our every move.

“There’s only one prediction that’s entirely safe about the upcoming term,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said last month at Georgetown’s law school. “It will be momentous.”

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Amicus briefs filed in partisan gerrymandering case before SCOTUS

The most important Supreme Court case in the new term beginning the first Monday in October is Whitford v. Gill: Partisan gerrymandering case before SCOTUS; SCOTUS to review partisan gerrymandering in Whitford v. Gill (the appeal at SCOTUS is now captioned Gill v. Whitford).

The New York Times Magazine recently published a lengthy investigative report as a preview of the issues in what may become a landmark case, The New Front in the Gerrymandering Wars: Democracy vs. Math (snippet):

Political scientists and mathematicians have been trying ever since to create a standard that will satisfy Justice Kennedy — still the court’s crucial swing vote. They argue that with the help of experts, courts themselves can use the mapmakers’ advanced tools to assess and block gerrymandering.

Last November, relying on the same kind of analyses as the map drafters, the three-­judge panel in the second Wisconsin case struck down the state’s 2011 redistricting law. The Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on Oct. 3.

The outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gill v. Whitford is likely to shape American politics for years and perhaps decades to come.

There has been some surprising new developments this week. The New York Times reports, Prominent Republicans Urge Supreme Court to End Gerrymandering:

Breaking ranks with many of their fellow Republicans, a group of prominent politicians filed briefs on Tuesday urging the Supreme Court to rule that extreme political gerrymandering — the drawing of voting districts to give lopsided advantages to the party in power — violates the Constitution.

The briefs were signed by Republicans including Senator John McCain of Arizona; Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio; Bob Dole, the former Republican Senate leader from Kansas and the party’s 1996 presidential nominee; the former senators John C. Danforth of Missouri, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former governor of California.

“Partisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process,” reads a brief filed by Mr. McCain and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, on Oct. 3.

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Texas Voter ID law again struck down for purposeful racial discrimination

The Houston Chronicle reports that Federal judge again tosses out Texas voter ID law:

A federal judge who has compared Texas’ voter ID requirements to a “poll tax” on minorities once again blocked the law Wednesday, rejecting a weakened version backed by the Trump administration and dealing Texas Republicans another court defeat over voting rights.

You can read the 27 page opinion and order  HERE (.pdf).

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected changes signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this summer as not only lacking but also potentially chilling to voters because of new criminal penalties. The new version didn’t expand the list of acceptable photo identifications — meaning gun licenses remained sufficient proof to vote, but not college student IDs.

Instead, the changes would allow people who lack a required ID to cast a ballot if they signed an affidavit and brought paperwork that showed their name and address, such as a bank statement or utility bill. Those revisions were supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which under President Barack Obama had joined Democrats and minority rights groups in suing over the law.

But that position has changed with President Donald Trump in charge, who has established a “fraudulent voter fraud commission” to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 elections. In February, the Trump Justice Department abandoned the argument Texas passed voter ID rules with discrimination in mind and said changes signed by Abbott should satisfy the courts.

Texas first passed the voter ID law in 2011, the same year the GOP-controlled Legislature adopted voting maps that were also struck down as discriminatory [in mid-August]. See Rick Hasen, Breaking: 3-Judge Court Issues Latest Order in Texas Redistricting Case (Congressional Seats), Finding Continued Intentional Racial Discrimination. You can read the court’s 107-page order here.

UPDATE: The Texas Tribune reports:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton revealed Friday that Gov. Abbott won’t ask lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional map — found by a federal court this week to discriminate against Latino and black voters — in a fresh round of legislative overtime.

Instead, Paxton is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and trying to keep the boundaries intact for the 2018 elections, according to his filing to a panel of three judges in San Antonio.

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