The USConstitution leaves oversight for drawing Congressional districts to the states, unless they are bound by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the constitutionality of which was debated recently in the Supreme Court. My personal view is that if we are concerned that we are discriminating against parts of the country, we should just expand it to the entire nation. A list of all states and jurisdictions covered by the provision can be found here. For the record, they are not all in the south (several New York state counties such as Bronx, Kings and New York City are included). Texas ran afoul of the Act when it redrew its map to reflect the four seats it gained in the 2010 census. Basically, the growth that won Texas new seats was about 90 percent Latino but that was’t taken into account when the maps were drawn so they were thrown out. You can read about that here.
As our nation’s demographics shift, I can see a day when one can not predict so reliably how someone will vote by looking at them — and I look forward to that day. Recently, it may seem like most of the gerrymandering has been to the benefit of the Republicans but that may not always be the case and may not be a cut and dried rule now. The New Republic called Maryland’s CD 3, “the most gerrymandered in the country.” Read about it here.
Why does this matter? States should be able to determine who they pick to represent them in Congress, right?
If the basic unfairness of it doen’t bother you, the considerable damage this is doing to the process should. We have members of Congress who talk at and through each other because they are playing to increasingly extreme bases at home. This situation is the reason we haven’t had a full budget since 2009, which is an unbelievably wasteful way to run anything.
Luckily, Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) has a plan to fix this. He introduced H.R. 278 in January. According to his press release on the bill:
“This legislation was championed for many years by former Congressman John Tanner and was introduced in the last Congress by former Congressman Heath Shuler. Should the legislation become law, beginning after the 2020 census The FAIR Act would require each state to appoint an independent and transparent congressional redistricting commission. The commission would be charged with creating a redistricting plan that emphasizes geographical contiguity and compactness of districts rather than political affiliations or the impact a district’s lines may have on incumbent representatives.
The state legislature and the governor may approve or reject the commission’s plan, but may not amend it. If the governor does not sign into law a plan by November 1st in the year before a congressional reapportionment, the commission may forward plans to the state’s highest court, which may select a plan, but may not make any amendments. If the state court is unable to select a plan, the federal district court must develop and publish a final redistricting plan. The bill also prohibits a state from redistricting until after the next census unless it is under court order to do so.”
I don’t hold a lot of hope for this passing anytime soon but I wish it could. You can read the full text here.