We had a server outage, and we're rebuilding the site. Most of the site features won't work. Thank you for your patience.
imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
latest news
best of news




A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List


IMC Network:

Original Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Should the Supreme Court Clean Up Its Own Mess?

by Stuart Taylor Jr. Thursday, Dec. 25, 2003 at 10:06 AM

The justices have destroyed all the rules, customs, and traditions that used to restrain gerrymanders. The results: a few more liberal black and Hispanic members; a lot more conservative Republicans; and a lot fewer moderate Democrats.

December 23, 2003

Overshadowed by the December 10 decision upholding the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was an important oral argument that morning over whether the Supreme Court should arrogate to itself vast new powers to redraw every congressional district in the nation. The goal would be to clean up the incumbent-entrenching, polarizing, gerrymandered mess that redistricting has become, or at least to strike down partisan gerrymanders so extreme as to mock majority rule.

The lawyers were too polite to tell the justices--who had just finished clucking at great length about the ickiness of campaign money--that the ickiness of gerrymandering is a mess mostly of their own making. The Court's well-intended but clumsy interventions in the redistricting process over the past 40 years have destroyed the standards that had previously kept politically motivated manipulations of election-district lines within tolerable bounds.

So the real question in Vieth v. Jubelirer is whether the way to mitigate the harm done to our political system by the Court's previous usurpations of legislative power is for the Court to usurp more power still.

The Vieth case is a lawsuit by Democrats to overturn the strangely shaped districts that Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature drew after the 2000 census, which cost the state two House seats. The new maps, overtly designed for partisan advantage, forced two pairs of incumbent House Democrats to run against each other, put a fifth in a heavily Republican district, and ended up delivering 12 of the state's 19 House seats to Republicans in 2002, up from 11 out of 21. This despite the nearly even split in voting loyalties illustrated by Al Gore's narrow win in Pennsylvania in 2000.

Republican legislative majorities in Florida, Michigan, and Ohio engineered similar partisan gerrymanders after the 2000 census. The result is that Republicans hold 51 House seats to Democrats' 26 in these four states, even though their voters in 2000 split almost evenly between Gore and George W. Bush. Democrats have collected a smaller number of seats in their own post-2000 gerrymanders. And this year, Republican-controlled legislatures in Texas and Colorado have taken the once-a-decade redistricting wars to a new level, by redrawing the new district lines that had been put in place after the 2000 census.

Republicans in Texas rammed through in October--after Democratic legislators had twice fled the state to prevent a quorum--a county-splitting gerrymander designed to give Republicans as many as 22 of the state's 32 House seats next year, up from the current 15, and to help Majority Leader Tom DeLay cement Republican control of the House of Representatives. The new districts must first survive legal challenges. The Colorado Supreme Court struck down a somewhat similar mid-decade Republican gerrymander in that state on December 1, saying that the state constitution allows only one redistricting per decade.

Bipartisan gerrymanders, in which incumbents in both parties get together to guarantee themselves safe seats, may be even more destructive to democratic governance. This practice has made it ever more difficult for changes in public opinion to affect the branch that the Framers designed to be most responsive to such changes. Only four members of the House--less than 1 percent--lost their seats in 2002 to challengers from the other party. The number of House races deemed competitive has plunged from about 150 in 1992 to an expected 35 next year. So the voters have no real say in the general elections in more than 90 percent of all House districts, because the results have been rigged in advance.

This has produced a House bitterly divided between the most liberal of Democrats and the most conservative of Republicans. They are unrepresentative of the nation's largely centrist population because they need fear challenges only in primaries, which are dominated by their respective parties' fiercest loyalists. Moderate centrists have almost disappeared from the House, and been replaced by partisans disinclined to make pragmatic compromises. Never before has "gerrymandering"--the word was inspired by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry's approval of a salamander-shaped district to help his party in 1811--been taken to such extremes.

What brought us to this pass? The most familiar explanation is that modern computer technology allows line-drawers to use surgical precision in distributing likely Republican and Democratic voters among election districts in exactly the numbers desired. The more important explanation may be that the Supreme Court did it. Beginning with the "one-person, one-vote" rulings of the early 1960s, the justices have repeatedly intervened in the redistricting process, with the unintended but foreseeable consequence of destroying all of the rules, customs, and traditions that had restrained partisan and bipartisan gerrymanders alike.

The justices have had their reasons. The Warren Court was right to end the outrageous malapportionment of legislative districts that had left urban voters in many states with a fraction of the voting power of rural voters. But the Court went about it the wrong way. Instead of citing the most relevant constitutional provision--the clause requiring "a republican form of government" in each state--the Court pretended against all evidence that the Fourteenth Amendment's equal-protection clause had been designed to mandate precise equality in election-district populations. This absolutist approach, while easy for courts to administer, has led to such perverse extremes as the 1983 decision (in Karcher v. Daggett) striking down a New Jersey redistricting plan because of a difference of less than 1 percent between the most-populous and least-populous districts.

This "uncompromising emphasis on numerical equality" has served to "encourage and legitimate even the most outrageously partisan gerrymandering"--as Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. predicted in his dissent--by requiring abandonment of traditional districting standards: city and county lines, compactness, contiguity, and natural and historical boundaries. Those had been the only brakes on incumbents' power to gerrymander district lines for personal and partisan advantage.

The justices made matters worse in 1986, in Thornburg v. Gingles, with their questionable interpretation of the 1982 Voting Rights Act Amendments. It virtually required states to draw as many strangely shaped districts as possible to maximize the number of safe seats for black and Hispanic candidates. That mandate destroyed what was left of the traditional districting standards. It also fostered an unholy alliance that teamed black and Hispanic Democrats who wanted safe seats for themselves with Republicans who were glad to help. The Republicans knew that packing minority voters into a few districts would enable Republicans to score net gains, by creating more suburban districts with conservative, white majorities. The results: a few more liberal black and Hispanic members; a lot more conservative Republicans; and a lot fewer moderate Democrats. This helps explain the 1994 landslide that gave Republicans control of the House.

But by that time, a more conservative Supreme Court majority had developed a distaste for the race-based gerrymandering that the Court itself had required. Unwilling to reconsider Gingles, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote, and her four more-conservative colleagues decided instead to hold racial gerrymanders unconstitutional, in a succession of decisions between 1993 and 1997. But in 2001, in yet another switch, O'Connor voted with the Court's liberals in Easley v. Cromartie to uphold a gerrymander designed to protect an incumbent black Democrat, Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina. The rationale: The Legislature's main motive had been to create not a safe black district, but a safe Democratic district.

Thus has politically motivated gerrymandering become a constitutional virtue. But not for long, if Pennsylvania's Democrats win Vieth v. Jubelirer. "The House of Representatives is supposed to be the mirror of the people," their lawyer, Paul Smith, told the justices. He argued that when gerrymandering can give Republicans (or Democrats) "two-thirds of the seats with less than half of the vote," the Court must enforce "an outer boundary" to protect majority rule.

A good point. But Smith didn't seem to be finding many takers. He tried to come up with rules for deciding how much gerrymandering is too much. But it was clear that this would be an utterly subjective choice. "You're pulling this out of a hat, so to speak," said Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. "The Constitution doesn't intimate anything like what you're talking about." Nobody mentioned all the rabbits that the justices have pulled out of hats.

"Maybe the way to go is to just say, 'Hands off,' " said O'Connor. Maybe someone should have thought of that a long time ago. The solution is probably for states to emulate Iowa, where legislators vote up or down on maps drawn by civil servants who are instructed to ignore partisan voting patterns--not for the justices to come blundering once again to the rescue.

* * *

Stuart Taylor Jr. is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a contributing editor at Newsweek. This column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.
Report this post as:
Share on: Twitter, Facebook, Google+

add your comments

Local News

Woolsey Fire: Worst News of 2018? J01 12:18AM

Oppose Environmentally-Harmful Development D10 4:03AM

Oppose Environmentally-Harmful Development D10 3:58AM

OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center Presents Night for Hope O30 5:38PM

Marshall Tuck’s racist dog whistle O27 5:01AM

Marshall Tuck’s ethnocentrism contradicts Californian values O27 4:32AM

Contra Costa-Hawkins O25 3:48AM

Debunking Some Anti-Prop 10 Propaganda O12 6:56AM

Why Should California Choose De Leon Over Feinstein? O10 9:55PM

Change Links September 2018 posted S02 10:22PM

More Scandals Rock Southern California Nuke Plant San Onofre A30 11:09PM

Site Outage Friday A30 3:49PM

Change Links August 2018 A14 1:56AM

Setback for Developer of SC Farm Land A12 11:09PM

More problems at Shutdown San Onofre Nuke J29 10:40PM

Change Links 2018 July posted J09 8:27PM

More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena J02 7:16PM

"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena J02 7:08PM

Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles J30 11:26PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Actor Patrick Kilpatrick Discusses and Signs his New Book Dying for Living J23 10:57PM

“Animaniacs in Concert!” Starring Voice Legend Rob Paulsen Heads to the Lincoln Center J23 8:45PM




Paraphysique du burnout post-démocratique J23 9:06AM

911 : establishment terror J22 11:18PM

Actor Patrick Kilpatrick Discusses and Signs his New Book Dying for Living J22 10:42PM

The Attack of Corporations and the Rich on the Rest of Society J22 2:36PM

bataclown J22 12:32PM

bataclone J21 8:08PM


Mobile Royale Hack Online Generator - Get Unlimited Crystals J21 3:03PM

Unification, séparation et fragmentation J21 2:48PM

Testing Upload J21 7:10AM



Chemtrails and Prince J20 2:43PM

Wages For Housework J20 2:41PM

Tutelle comportementaliste J20 9:18AM

A Mistake: Jesse Jackson-Toyota deal-in Lexington -Ky is .8 billion over 10 years 2018 J20 1:17AM

If Trump Declares a AantionalEmergency, He'll Be Breaking the Law J20 12:47AM

Jesse Jackson's Sneak Attck on Toyota Lexington Ky and it's workers 2018 J19 9:12PM

Video: Chris Herdges in Eugene, 1 hr 24 min J19 5:37PM



Judge Delays Ruling on Puerto Rico Debt Deal White House Opposes Island's Food Assistance J18 6:04PM


More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy