Category Archives: Reapportionment

Supreme Court pulls a Pontius Pilate on gerrymandering

court

By which I mean, of course, that they have washed their hands of any responsibility for the single problem doing the most to divide our country and destroy our constitutional system:

I’ve got to go get some work done, but I thought I’d establish a place for talking about this shocking development.

As Kagan said in her dissent, “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

Sending it to the states — that is to say, the legislatures who created the problem and are highly motivated to perpetuate it — is indeed, as Harry Harris said, the fox guarding the henhouse.

What are we going to do as a country?

Gerrymandering, South Carolina-style

SC 6th Congressional District

Yesterday, we discussed this Supreme Court ruling:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature relied on racial gerrymandering when drawing the state’s congressional districts, a decision that could make it easier to challenge other state redistricting plans.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly tainted redistricting decisions by GOP-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some cases involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.

The states contended that their efforts were partisan moves to protect their majorities, which the Supreme Court in the past has allowed, rather than attempts to diminish the impact of minority voters, which are forbidden….

The states argued that way because, bizarrely, our courts decided long ago that it was OK to stack districts to elect members of this or that party, or to protect incumbents — which to me has always seemed an abdication of the judiciary’s responsibility to check the power of the legislative branch. If lawmakers can perpetuate their personal holds on their districts, how is that unlike inherited titles, or the “rotten boroughs” that Britain did away with in 1832? But that’s just me.

I’d like to see the court take a good look at South Carolina next, if it gets the opportunity.

It should start with the 6th Congressional District, which is where GOP strategy in drawing congressional lines begins. Since 1990, our lawmakers have packed as many black voters into it as possible, so as to make our other six districts whiter and more likely — in practice now, virtually certain — to elect Republicans.

The trick, of course, will be proving a racial intent, since race and partisan leaning are so closely related. I don’t think our Republican representatives would care whether their constituents were black, white or green, as long as they voted for Republicans. But as we know, even if you drew the lines purely by voting patterns and didn’t have racial data available, if you draw a reliable GOP district, it’s going to very white.

The fact that it ends up that way can’t really be disputed — although the 5th and 7th districts “look like South Carolina” being 66.7% and 65.4% white respectively, they don’t look much like districts that include part of, or border on, the Pee Dee. And the other four GOP districts are whiter, with the whitest being the 3rd, at 76.9%.

I gleaned these figures from Wikipedia:

  • 1st — 74.8% white
  • 2nd — 69.5% white
  • 3rd — 76.9% white
  • 4th — 76.2% White
  • 5th — 66.7% White
  • 6th — 57.0% Black (40.8% White)
  • 7th — 65.4% White

At a glance, the 6th doesn’t look all that gerrymandered, until you focus on that crazy indentation that excludes the white suburbs of Charleston. And then you notice how, all along the coast, the rest of the southern border of the district goes almost, but not quite, to the beach — thereby drawing out the affluent white beaches while retaining the poor, black parts of those counties on the inland side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Then there’s the weird little projection into Columbia at the top — which looks even more bizarre when you see what it fits into: an odd hook-like structure on the 2nd District map (below) that gives all of Columbia’s white suburbs to Joe Wilson.

Thus, Jim Clyburn is free to be the sort of Democrat that closely allies himself with Nancy Pelosi and know he’ll never lose his seat while he still wants it. And Joe Wilson, a Republican of an earlier time, is safe as long as he hangs on tight to the ears of whatever wild ideological beast is rampaging through his party at a given moment (yelling “You Lie!” helped with that, as inconsistent as it was with his personality).

It doesn’t really matter whom Republicans nominate in the 6th District, or whom Democrats find to put up in the 2nd. There are no choices to be made here.

And that’s very, very bad for our Republic.

You can see the same thing repeated again and again if you study state legislative districts. But this is the one that’s easiest to see.

SC 2nd Congressional District

The end of gerrymandering? Depends how bad you want it…

You may have thought the Supreme Court did some big stuff last week.

Pshaw.

The ACA ruling? It maintained the status quo. Nothing changed, nothing to see. Move along.

The same-sex marriage ruling? Aw, who was really surprised by that?

Today, in the midst of several other rulings — the Court seemed to be tossing them out like Mardi Gras revelers throwing beads to the kids — the justices did something significant, something that could potentially solve most of the things that are wrong with politics in America:

A divided Supreme Court on Monday said voters concerned that partisan gerrymandering is creating unfair elections are entitled to take reapportionment away from state legislatures.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that the Constitution does not give legislatures exclusive control over congressional redistricting and said voters may vest the power in independent commissions by ballot initiative, where this option exists.

“The animating principle of our Constitution [is] that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority….

If you don’t know what this means, I’ll tell you: No more districts drawn to serve political parties rather than the nation. No more parties getting more and more extreme because all incumbents have to fear is a primary opponent who is more extreme than they are, since general elections don’t matter. Maybe, maybe even no more creating one majority-minority district by drawing all the ones around it super-white (there are other barriers to changing that, though — I think).

Competitive elections between sensible centrists! How wonderful!

But wait! How does one take this power away from partisan legislatures? Oh… with a ballot initiative.

Dang.

So… you’re saying we have to kill representative democracy to improve it? Because that’s what government by ballot initiative amounts to. No, thanks. Dang.

Hey! Maybe, with enough pressure, lawmakers could be persuaded to give up the power themselves. Impossible, you say? Yes, well, I would normally say the same. But I just saw the political leadership of South Carolina decide to take down the Confederate flag, so pretty much anything is looking possible to me right now.

At least let me dream…

SCOTUS has a chance to undo madness of drawing districts according to race

In my last post, I discussed how hopelessly uncompetitive elections for the U.S. House are.

That’s because of the way legislators have drawn the districts, to make each one “safe” for one party or the other. In the South, and especially in South Carolina, that has involved Republican majorities drawing a few super-safe districts for black Democrats, while making the districts around them even safer for white Republicans — and ensuring GOP majorities in statehouses.

Thus far, the courts have allowed this sort of thing. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to change that:

… But the Supreme Court has decided to step into this one and will hear arguments in the matter next week. The justices are being asked to find that, as has happened many times in Alabama’s history, race played an improper role in how the state was reapportioned.

But the essence of the allegation is not that Republicans made it too hard for African American candidates to be elected. It’s that they made it too easy.

The challengers said the mapmakers packed African American voters into districts where they already enjoyed a majority, diluting their power elsewhere and easing the way for white Republicans to win everything else.

A three-judge panel that examined the 2012 redistricting process ruled 2 to 1 that the plan enacted by Alabama was constitutional and said the legislature’s intentions were not improper.

The challengers — black elected officials and the Alabama Democratic Conference — alleged that the plans “were the product of a grand Republican strategy to make the Democratic Party the ‘black party’ and the Republican Party the ‘white party,’ ” wrote Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. “The record does not support that theory.”,,,

The good judge must not be looking at the record closely enough.

Here’s hoping the Supremes see the situation more clearly. If so, the nation could take a step back toward having actual choices in the fall. And a step away from the madness of election legislators and members of Congress who see themselves as elected entirely by people of one race or the other. Which has never been a healthy thing for our republic.

Just how uncompetitive the U.S. House elections are

house map

Click on the map above to go to a page where you can interact with it, and explore just how few House districts across the nation are competitive. It’s accompanied by various other charts that show graphically just how stacked the deck is across the country.

The dark red and dark blue districts are settled, foregone conclusions, thanks to the awful miracle of modern redistricting algorithms, which enable Legislatures to draw districts so that they are guaranteed to go for one party or the other — so that the only real contests are in primaries, which have the effect of pulling both parties farther and farther from the political center. The only thing most members of Congress fear is primary opponents who are more extreme than they are.

Of course, we know that there is no chance for the minority party in any of South Carolina’s seven congressional districts. That’s because ever since the redrawing that occurred after the 1990 census, the 6th District has been drawn as a super-extreme “majority-minority” district. I remember Jim Clyburn saying, way back in the 90s, that he didn’t really need his district to be gerrymandered to the extent that it was in order to win. Well, since then, if anything, our GOP Legislature has been even more generous with the state’s one Democratic congressman.

Why? because every black voter they can shove into Clyburn’s district makes the other six districts that much safer for Republicans.

This is, after all, how they came to power in the Legislature to start with. Black Democrats were unsatisfied with the number of majority-minority districts Speaker Bob Sheheen and the other white Democrats were willing to draw after the 1990 census. So they joined forces with the Republicans to pass a plan that created more of them — and consequently made the surrounding districts whiter, and more Republican.

And abracadabra — we had a Republican House, and Sheheen wasn’t speaker anymore. And a few years later, the Senate followed suit. And the Black Caucus got a few more members, but they were now all in the minority party, which meant the caucus had traded away much of its ability to get anything done once elected.

But I digress….

The larger issue nationally is that voters no longer have a viable choice in general elections for Congress. Which is a terrible thing to have happened to our representative democracy.