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Gerrymandering: The Battle Lines Are Certainly Drawn

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Peter Lyn René
January 28, 2022

On Monday December 6, 2021, United States Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the Republican-led State of Texas, in a direct challenge to Texas’ redistricting plans for the Texas congressional delegation and the Texas House of Representatives. Attorney General Garland stated, “The complaint we filed today alleges that Texas has violated Section 2 by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group.” In the 45-page complaint, the Justice Department acknowledged that Texas, based on the 2020 Census data, gained two seats in the United States House of Representatives, expanding their delegation in Congress from 36 to 38 seats. Though the growth in the population came primarily from people of color and specifically the Latino electorate, the Texas House designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities. Texas also intentionally eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in Congressional District 23, a West Texas district where courts had identified Voting Rights Act violations during the previous two redistricting cycles.

The Democratic-led Illinois state legislature was also accused of using partisan gerrymandering regarding Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of only two Republicans to serve on the House Select Committee to Investigate January 6th, who was gerrymandered out of his seat. Shortly after the newly drawn seat was announce, Congressman Kinzinger announced his retirement from Congress. Even The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan watchdog group, gave the approved map a failing “F” grade on partisan fairness, competitiveness and geography. Both the Democrats and Republicans are engaging in partisan gerrymandering throughout the nation to gain political advantages in Congress and in state legislatures. In this divisive era, this has led to a more bitter and toxic political environment.

The gerrymandering process involves focusing members of the other party into one voting district as to make their vote irrelevant and wasted, or “packing”, and spreading one’s opponent across many district(s), or “cracking”, as to completely drown their vote. Pure political thought and ideology is perhaps at the core of the excessive use of gerrymandering. Is political gerrymandering the true cause of the stinging polarization going into the year 2022? The evidence suggests that the famous red and blue maps of political leanings show how predictable most states have become in a close national race because of greater partisan cohesion among voters. Not only has gerrymandering led to increased polarization, it has led to less competitive congressional elections, which almost 97 percent of the time favors the incumbent. This appears to be the objective in these political, partisan drawn district maps in Illinois and Texas, for example. Partisan control of the redistricting process has become a frequent target for criticism in the United States, particularly in 2021 and heading into the 2022 mid-term elections, where the Republican Party enjoys an edge and are favored to win the House of Representatives.

In the 2008 mid-term elections, President Obama described the huge losses by Democrats at the polls as a “thumping.” Then, the Republican Party concentrated and won a majority of state legislatures thus giving them control of the redistricting process, and their control over these legislatures has continued to grow since that time. As of December 2021, Republicans controlled 54.22 percent of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 44.70 percent. Republicans held a majority in 62 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 36 chambers. Since both parties actively use gerrymandering for political gain, is the remedy to end this process the Supreme Court? In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that this was not an issue that the Court was qualified to rule on. In Rucho v. Common Cause, the Court stated that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the Court’s other four conservatives, wrote the 5-4 decision. The majority opinion stated that federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions. In previous cases before the Court, the justices also resisted weighing in on taking this process away from state legislators. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (1981 – 2006), in particular argued that all political gerrymandering claims should be held as nonjusticiable, or a matter that federal courts should not hear or decide. Justice O’Connor also felt that the Court should not intervene in gerrymandering matters because they tend to “work themselves out.” Justice O’Connor felt that there was no proof before the Court that political gerrymandering is an evil that cannot be checked or cured by the people or by the parties themselves. Unfortunately, gerrymandering matters have not corrected themselves. With soaring incumbent reelection rates, increased polarization, declining participation and even voter dissatisfaction, to the allegedly corrupt and destructive practice of partisan gerrymandering, political polarization and a toxic political environment will continue until a rational solution is reached to fairly draw our political maps.

Author: Peter Lyn René is an Adjunct Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. He has Bachelors in Political Science and a Masters in Law and Public Policy, and is currently a candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy in Law and Public Policy degree, expected 2022. He is the Chairman, and CEO of The Caribbean American Heritage Foundation of Texas. He has an extensive background in international Non-Profit Policy, Administration and Management, Information Technology and Project Management. René is a Mediator and volunteers his time mediating cases for the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center . René serves on the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State. He serves on the Executive Committee of the United Nations Council of Organizations. René can be contacted at [email protected].

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