Republicans Fighting Against Efforts To Limit Gerrymandering
Republicans are trying to fight back against efforts to limit their ability to gerrymander Congressional and State Legislative Districts. It's a fight they deserve to lose.
Allegra Kirkland at Talking Points Memo notes that Republicans are stepping up efforts to stomp out efforts to reform or even eliminate partisan gerrymandering across the country:
With anti-gerrymandering efforts gaining steam, Republicans in some states are mobilizing to protect their ability to continue rigging election maps.
In late April, a Republican group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce sued to keep a popular redistricting reform measure off the state’s November ballot. Arizona’s GOP-controlled legislature last week narrowly failed to pass a bill that would have given the party much more control over the map-drawing process. And Pennsylvania Republicans, who recently mulled impeaching a group of state judges who struck down their gerrymander, this week gutted reform legislation.
[I]t’s the state-level efforts that lately have taken center stage.
Late last month, a Republican-backed group, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), sued to block a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would create a 13-person independent redistricting commission to redraw political maps. The commission would be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five “non-affiliated,” independent members.
The suit argued that only a constitutional convention could make the change, and that petitions used to gather signatures had left off relevant details of the constitutional language to be changed. The state GOP has called the proposed amendment a “wolf in sheep’s clothing by the Democrats.”
“The voters were signed on to something that said this is a simple amendment, and it’s not — it’s a wholesale change,” CPMC spokesman Dave Doyle told TPM. “If they had gone ahead and told people this changes the authority of the executive, legislative, judicial branches, that might have been a different story.”
In Arizona, Republicans have for months been working to upend the state’s independent commission, which is seen as a national model for creating fair maps. The GOP-controlled legislature sought to revamp the commission with a ballot initiative that would increase the number of members from five to eight, give lawmakers more control over the pool of commissioners, and bar the practice of drawing districts with slight differences in population size, which experts say currently makes it easier to draw districts with non-white majorities.
Democrats and advocates for fair maps said the changes would allow Republicans to slip in more of their ideological allies, and could lead to less minority representation in the state legislature.
The bill easily passed the House last week. But it unexpectedly failed in the Senate by just two votes on Thursday before the legislature adjourned for the year, meaning it won’t be on the November ballot.
Then there’s Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court ruled in January that the state’s Republican-drawn maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and asked an independent expert to draw new ones. That led a group of GOP lawmakers to file impeachment resolutions against four of the Democratic justices.
It’s no surprise, of course, that Republicans would go on the offensive over efforts to reduce the influence of partisanship over the redistricting process. On the back of their victories in state Legislative and Gubernatorial races across the country beginning in 2010, Republicans used the redistricting process to draw district lines that favored their positions and worked to limit the ability of Democrats to compete by bunching their voters into a limited number of districts even if it means creating district lines that defied logic, reason, and in some cases it even seemed the laws of physics to create districts with shapes that plainly were intended to benefit one party over another. This helped the party significantly in the 2010 midterms, when it gained control of the House of Representatives, and in subsequent elections that saw incumbents re-elected at even higher rates than are considered historically normal. At the same time, the number of districts that were truly competitive has dwindled significantly over the years to the point where it’s at the lowest point it has been at in decades.
These efforts from the right are coming, of course, at the same time that gerrymandering is coming under increasing attack in the political and legal sphere.
On Tuesday, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum that imposes reforms on the state’s redistricting process aimed at reducing the ability of a single political party to influence the process. The Ohio reforms don’t go quite as far as the reforms in other states such as Arizona and California, where redistricting is now handled almost exclusively be an independent commission and the ability of the legislature to change the lines that the commission draws is severely restricted. However, those reforms will have a real impact on how Ohio’s district lines are drawn after the 2020 Census and will likely make it harder to draw district lines that favor one party over another. The success of this referendum is likely to spur people in other states to push for similar reforms in their states.
In addition to the action on the political front, we’ve seen a significant amount of action on the legal front. The Supreme Court, for example, currently has pending before it two cases that deal with partisan gerrymandering from Wisconsin and Maryland respectively, as well as a third case out of Texas dealing with racial gerrymandering. Decisions in these cases are expected by the end of the Court’s current term in June. In addition to those cases, a three-judge panel from the Federal District Court in North Carolina held that the Tarheel State’s Congressional map was invalid due to the extremely partisan manner in which district lines were drawn. Finally, in the most significant case in this area this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a similar ruling with respect to the Congressional Districts in the Keystone State, the major difference between this case and the other three, of course, is that the Pennsylvania ruling is based on the state Constitution rather than Federal law or the U.S. Constitution. Because of this, the Justices declined to intervene in the Pennsylvania case, and the state Supreme Court moved forward with its threat to issue its own redistricting map when the Republican legislature and Democratic Governor failed to come to an agreement on a new map. That map will be in effect in November when Pennsylvanians head to the polls and is likely to have a real impact on the makeup of the state’s Congressional delegation that will be part of the 116th Congress when it convenes in January.
With all these developments, it certainly seems that the GOP is fighting against a rising tide that is likely to make it harder for them to engineer district lines that favor them to the detriment of the Democrats. This will most certainly be the case if the Supreme Court rules in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases that overly partisan district maps are unconstitutional. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, it does seem as though the popular tide against gerrymandering has turned and that this is an issue that could motivate voters to act. Recent polling has shown that public opposition to gerrymandering is universal across demographic and party lines, and that’s only likely to increase. While it may not be the deciding issue in an election, Democratic candidates would be wise to take note of this in their races in state legislative elections in the fall, and Republicans should be wary about potential blow back if their party is perceived as trying to protect what the public has come to see as an unfair advantage.