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‘Process Democrats’ And The Redistricting Case

June 19, 2017

Those who care about the process of governing are pleased there is now a high-stakes legal drama in the offing which may allow for some sanity to be brought to the matter of how states construct their internal political boundaries for election purposes. The Supreme Court announced they will take up the most important gerrymandering case in more than a decade.

There is no doubt that partisans on each side will claim all sorts of things over this news in an attempt to shore up their line of defense.  But the ones who can claim the most solid position on this issue are those who know how we govern is as vital as what that process produces for policy.

The way a sports car is made may not seem as interesting as what it can do out on the open road but the fact remains it all starts out on a drawing board.  The same can be said for the importance about the art of governing.

The absurdity of crafting lines for nefarious reasons runs all the way back to 1789 when Patrick Henry helped draw the lines in Virginia in such a way as to place his enemy, James Madison, in an anti-Federalist district.  In fact before the term ‘Gerrymander” was in vogue there was a term called “Henrymander”.   (The odd things one can learn on vacation in D.C.)

The case that was announced today for a hearing before the court involves district lines in Wisconsin that challengers say were drawn unconstitutionally to benefit Republicans.  What many are hoping is that this case will have a major impact on how district lines are drawn up nationwide.

In the past the court has said that too much partisanship in map drawing is illegal.  But past rulings have been too narrow so the court never added how much political chicanery–my word for this mess–is too much when it comes to partisan lines being created.

The fact is that both parties have been guilty over time in a raft of states by creating boundary lines that simply defy logic.  If comes then as no surprise, given the hyper-nature of politics and the degree to which the ‘creative’ use of drawing lines has been pushed, that this new examination of whether redistricting plans can be unconstitutional because they’re too partisan comes into sharp focus for the court.

Last November, a three-judge panel ruled, 2-1, that the Republican-drawn maps for Wisconsin’s state assembly were biased against Democrats.  The State of Wisconsin then asked the Supreme Court to summarily overturn the decision, or at least to put it on hold. The high court also signaled Monday that it may well split along partisan lines. The justices voted, 5-4, to stay a requirement that the state file a new redistricting plan by Nov. 1. All the Democratic appointees dissented

So what happened today means this matter is likely headed to a full hearing in the fall before the court.  That makes some partisans nervous.

The problem has long been that too many partisan heads in our legislature are not able to think beyond their narrow interests, and consider the greater good when it comes to redistricting. And I mean both parties as this matter was also front and center when Governor Doyle was in charge and had a friendly majority with which to work.  In recent years there was not even the ability to have a public hearing in our statehouse about the method employed by Iowa which bypasses the elected officials in favor of a commission to draw the lines.

Political parties have for too long used the boundaries of districts to inoculate elected officials from the need to truly compete about ideas at election time.  One of the more outstanding figures offered  over the past years about immigration reform is that 70% of Republican congressional districts around the nation have less than 10% Hispanic/Latino voters.  In some cases that can be explained, but in many others it is due to crafty manipulation of district maps.  That type of political chicanery from both sides of the aisle creates far more problems when it comes to solving issues than perhaps anything else other than the heavy amounts of campaign money that is allowed to be raised, and not allowing merit selection for state supreme court justices.

Wisconsinites who talk about the need for better jobs and higher wages and stronger schools need to also be mindful about the foundations that are essential to making our government stronger. We need to again think back to our civics lessons as to why being a process (small d) democrat matters. Unless the way we elect people is based on a more equitable and level-playing field all the grand ideas we may hold about building a stronger society will be left in drafting folders on a shelf.  

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2017 5:50 PM

    Five words. Paper ballots and federal marshals. Nothing else is going to clean up this mess.

  2. June 19, 2017 5:33 PM

    I have long been in favor of a national system of voting and tabulating the returns. I can not fathom we are in the 21st century and have so many ways of doing this most important act of democracy.

  3. June 19, 2017 5:18 PM

    Well, and then there’s the highly suspicious results of recent voting tabulation in Wisconsin. Until the Feds show an interest in monitoring our elections (highly unlikely under the Trump administration), it probably doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court decides. The GOP is here to stay, gerrymandering or no.

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