Politicians draw the lines. And that's the problem

Share on

Gerrymandering is the only science both parties believe in.

The tallest trees grow from the smallest seeds, at least that's what some top-tier thinker reputedly said.

Don't know who actually said it, or for that matter whether anyone ever said it. But it's too good to overlook. And besides it makes the point nicely for today's sermon about a largely unremarked upon practice that's undermining our democracy.

It's gerrymandering.

Most people know relatively little about the subject. And that's too bad because gerrymandering is to politics what baseball is to sport -- a kind of national pastime.

Both of our great political parties have, almost from the origins of the Republic, resorted to the gerrymander -- the use of political power to stack legislative or congressional seats to the advantage of the majority party out of all proportion to its share of the vote.

It's kind of like rain: everybody complains about it (most do anyway) but nobody does anything about. But maybe now, at last, somebody has done something about it.

A bipartisan set of somebodies, at that.

A bunch of top drawer Republicans and Democrats teamed up last week, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to get off its duff and do something about the degree to which gerrymandering has skewed the political balance in legislative and congressional districts across the country.

It's unconstitutional, these worthies insist in their petition.

Can anyone among us imagine our elected overseers, who spend so much of their overpaid time proclaiming devotion to our Constitution, actually acting unconstitutionally? Damned right we can.

Our national history over more than two centuries is riddled with unconstitutional activity by the elected gentry of both parties. I know that as an institution the Supreme Court is cautioned to keep its powder dry on political issues. It's meant to be the last arbiter, not one to enter the political thicket prematurely.

But surely the gerrymandering record -- of both parties, it should be stressed -- has reached a dangerous high, the equivalence of flood stage, you might say.

At the moment gerrymandering, especially at the state level, has been used by Republicans -- weaponized you might say -- to give them overwhelming and disproportionate power in legislatures across the country. Thus it's understandable that the GOP National Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee have entered the fray on the other side of the case  --  asking the Supremes to keep their cotton-pickin' hands off the matter.

The issue involved concerns the drawing of the Wisconsin state assembly distracts after the GOP there swept to state control.

In the 2010 state elections, Wisconsin voters gave Republicans 48 percent of the state-wide Assembly vote, which they gerrymandered into a bit more than 60 percent of the 99 Assembly seats.

A tad greedy? Sure. But Democrats did it too when they had the clout. Maybe not to such an extreme extent but they gerrymandered just as surely. The GOP's legal brief asking the Supremes to stay out of the fight is undercut, however, by the eminence of the Republicans calling for a halt to the practice. 

It includes Sen. John McCain, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, former Sen. Bob Dole, ex-GOP Senate leader and 1996 presidential candidate; former Sens. Alan Simpson, Richard Lugar, John Danforth and Arnold Schwarzenegger, former California governor.

It's a formidable bunch. Heavy hitters, to a man.

Among the legal talent representing the Republicans urging the Supremes to act is Harvard law professor Charles Fried, solicitor general under Ronald Reagan, who insisted that "it's not a partisan issue."

It's worth noting, however, that as power at the state level has shifted from Democrats to Republicans, the two parties also swapped arguments - first the GOP soliciting Supreme Court intervention when it was second-best, now the Democrats. 

But with more hostility than ever.

A bipartisan brief filed for 65 legislators, some current, some former, put it this way: "In recent years the two major political parties, leveraging the technologies of the modern age, have intentionally and systematically excluded each other from State Legislatures like never before."

How the High Court might intervene is unclear. Historically, the task of redrawing districts has been mostly left to state legislatures. Some states, in a bid to reduce partisanship, have given the jobs to special commissions or even panels of retired judges. It's always a ticklish, unwelcome task.

Racial gerrymandering - the kind that disadvantages minorities - is unconstitutional. The court, however, has never struck down a map redrawn for purely partisan advantage. But there's a first time for everything.

(Aside: Noticed that Donald Trump still hasn't released his income tax information. Maybe the Russians will do it.)

Are your interests being served in Congress? Use this tool to keep track.

John Farmer may be reached at jfarmer@starledger.com. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

Share on
Article Politicians draw the lines. And that's the problem compiled by Original article here

You might also like