It’s Okay When We Do It
Another day, another group of liberal judges doing the bidding of liberal activists.
Federal judges threw out Michigan’s congressional and state legislative maps yesterday, calling them unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders — but the outcome of cases already pending at the Supreme Court will likely determine whether Michigan redraws its districts before the 2020 election.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan ruled that Republicans who drew districts for Congress, state Senate and state House violated the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of Democrat voters by packing some of them into overwhelmingly Dim districts, while others were “cracked” into Republican-leaning districts. All of those decisions were intended, the court found, to maximize Republicans’ partisan advantage.
The court struck down nine of the state’s 14 congressional districts — the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th districts — as unconstitutional gerrymanders. The 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th were drawn to favor Republicans, the court found, even though freshman Dim Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens flipped the 8th and 11th districts, respectively, in the so-called blue wave of 2018. The court also found that the Dim-held 10th and 12th districts were packed with Dim voters to siphon them off from other districts. The court also ruled 11 state House districts and eight state Senate districts are unconstitutional gerrymanders.
“Today, this court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional,” wrote Judge Eric Clay, who was appointed by Slick Willy Clinton, naturally. Clay was joined in the decision by Judge Denise Page Hood, another Slick Willster, and Judge Gordon Quist, who was appointed by George H.W. Bush.
But, as in other states, the fate of Michigan’s maps — especially its congressional map — almost certainly lies in partisan gerrymandering cases already argued at the Supreme Court.
Last month, the SCOTUS heard arguments in cases from Maryland and North Carolina, where lower courts had ruled congressional-district lines violated voters’ constitutional rights. Decisions in those cases are expected to come in June, where hopefully the conservative majority will tell the lower courts to stop policing district lines based on whatever they think will serve Democrats.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.
The timing of a map redraw in Michigan suggests the state’s process may not proceed if the Supreme Court rules partisan gerrymandering is permissible. The Michigan court is giving the GOP-controlled state Legislature and the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, until Aug. 1 to pass and sign into law new maps to be used in the 2020 elections.
If the two parties can’t agree on new maps by Aug. 1, the court says it will redraw them itself. Translation: if we can’t tilt the map toward Democrats through negotiation, we’ll do it through judicial tyranny.
What is gerrymandering, anyway?
Gerrymandering is no novelty; it’s as old as American democracy itself. The practice is named for Elbridge Gerry, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, served in the first Congress, helped write the Bill of Rights, and was our fifth vice president (under James Madison). During his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted his state to overwhelmingly benefit his party (the Republicans), much to the dismay of the opposition party (the Federalists). One of the congressional districts was said to be shaped like a salamander, to which one Federalist reportedly said: No, it’s a gerrymander.
Once every ten years, following the U.S. census, the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are reapportioned based on the population of each state, relative to other states. (As the population shifts from one part of the country to another, some states will gain representatives while others lose them.) Each state legislature redistricts their state into the appropriate numbers of congressional districts, with the goal of making sure that each district has very close to the same population as the other districts.
Because a single party almost always controls a state legislature, of course it would be in that party’s interest to try to draw the district lines so their party will win or retain more seats in the House of Representatives than the opposition party.
Gerrymandering can take on a few different forms. The controlling party may try to force the opposition party into as few districts as possible. Or they may try to dilute the opposition across many districts so that they won’t have a voting majority in any of them. Or they may draw strangely shaped districts to split opposition votes or combine the votes of the party in power. Sometimes, these borders are designed to split the votes of ethnic, racial, religious, or other class groups. The most effective districting is done according to racial demographics, since race is the most reliable predictor of one’s politics.
So NOW it’s a problem, huh….
To listen to Democrats and their partners on the federal bench, one would think that gerrymandering is a modern phenomenon created by Dick Cheney in his secret underground lair to rob Democrats of power. The truth is, not only have Dims done their own fair share of advantageous districting, they have a much more prolific history of it than Republicans.
Democrats dominated the House of Representatives for four uninterrupted decades from 1954 to 1994, and they did so with the considerable help of partisan gerrymanders, abetted by entrenched Dim control of many state legislatures. A number of states in the South, in particular, had continuously Dim-run state legislatures from the end of Reconstruction into the 21st century. One of the first big gerrymandering controversies of the current era was a 2003 effort by Texas Republicans, after capturing control of the state legislature for the first time in 130 years, to replace a lopsided 1991 Dim gerrymander. Dim legislators fled the state in an effort to prevent its legislature from revising the 1991 map.
Now that tables have turned, Barry Obama and his “wingman” Eric Holder have made anti-gerrymandering efforts their main priority now and going forward. Obama and Holder are both ardent fans of interpreting the Voting Rights Act to require race-conscious gerrymandering to create “majority minority” districts — i.e., districts in which a majority of voters are members of the same racial-minority group. In the redistricting of Illinois’s state legislature after the 2000 census, Obama insisted on protecting his own racial group, telling the Chicago Defender that, “while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African-American seats.”
How’s that for cynical politicking?
How much does gerrymandering really matter?
Some, but not as much as the media would have you believe.
Partisan gerrymandering is not the sole reason Republicans have 15 to 20 more House seats than you’d project just from a proportional application of the national popular vote. It’s probably not even the most important reason. While Republicans do benefit from a number of partisan gerrymanders, so do the Dims, and other factors are at work, ranging from natural population distribution to federal restrictions derived from the aforementioned Voting Rights Act.
You don’t have to take my word for this; there is actual data.
Political scientists Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution conducted an in-depth study in 2013 of legislative-district lines, using computer simulations of precinct-by-precinct voting patterns to map alternative redistricting plans without regard to partisanship or race. What they concluded was that Republicans have a natural advantage conferred by the “human geography” of Democratic voters’ concentrating disproportionately in overwhelmingly liberal urban districts while Republican voters are more evenly distributed in the suburban, exurban, small-town, and rural districts.
In other words, the tendency of minorities to live in urban areas does more to “gerrymander” the electoral map than any state legislator ever could.
In fact, Chen and Rodden found that this “unintentional gerrymandering” produced an average Republican bias of five points nationwide, or seven to eight points in such states as Pennsylvania and Georgia. In Florida, their main test case, they used the 50–50 precinct-by-precinct Bush and Gore votes and found, based on random computer simulations of a map of 25 districts (the number of House districts in the 2002 redistricting), that Republicans had an average of 61% of the House seats. As Chen and Rodden explained in early 2014: “In the vast majority of states, our nonpartisan simulations produced Republican seat shares that were not much different from the actual numbers in the last election.”
Human geography, in conjunction with state-level winner-take-all rules in congressional elections and myriad other factors have more to do with the final seat tally in Congress than Dick Cheney’s evil whiteboard.
Want to know what real gerrymandering looks like? Welcoming in illegal immigrants and leaving their citizenship status off the census in order to bloat populations numbers and thus gain more congressional representation. You won’t hear Dims whine about that anytime soon.
Dims never cared about gerrymandering until they started losing state legislatures and seeing their own gerrymandered districts redrawn. And the narrative that gerrymandering is the primary reason for Republican gains over the last decade is pure myth.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will say as much when they issue a ruling in June. In the words of PDT, “Let’s see what happens.”
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