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Toxic Gerrymandering: It Did Not Start With the 2020 Census

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

By Peter Lyn René
February 25, 2022

Gerrymandering of voting districts has led to chaos in and the slow implosion, somewhat, of the Grand Old Party. This is the attempt to gain and solidify political gains and assure themselves that a Democratic or Independent candidate could not beat their incumbent. But has gerrymandering served the Republican Party (GOP) well? We need to look only to candidates representing the GOP’s most extreme edges to answer this question. The exaggerated statements, the intensifying cultural wars, the attack on Critical Race Theory, which is not taught in any elementary or high school, the rhetoric flurry and very questionable statements being made by these 2022 primary candidates have grown mainly out of the results of gerrymandering which created running in safe districts where there is no punishment for taking controversial stances on the issues. But is the Democratic Party innocent in the gerrymandering game? With modern mapping technology and reliable voting habits, both Republicans in Texas and Democrats in Illinois in 2021 were able to eliminate competition in their new maps, both Congressional and legislative. Democrats, however, have a slightly harder time gerrymandering because rural and white voters are somewhat less lopsided in their voting habits and have heavily trended Republican in the last three to four election cycles. While my previous article focused on gerrymandering in 2021, it is clear that this toxic process of redrawing voting districts is not a phenomenon of the 2022 election cycle.

The modern Republican advantage with gerrymandering began over 20 years ago and (partly) with the 2010 Midterm Elections where the GOP pummeled the Democrats, capturing 60 seats in the House of Representatives and six Senate seats. Their sweep of the elections gave the party their largest majority since the Great Depression. Significantly, they also won about 3,890, or 53 percent, of the total state legislative seats in America, the most seats in the GOP column since 1928, an advantage they still hold in 2022 (54.4 percent). As a result, the party was in a great position for drawing congressional and state legislative districts based on the 2020 census. Credit for these electoral victories cannot solely be given to the 2010 GOP; the true hero (or villain) began laying the groundwork for the 2010 landslide victories in 2003 with a mid-cycle redistricting map which was the most egregious example of this process. Orchestrated by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, gerrymandering created a six-seat swing from Democrat to Republican in the state‘s 32-member delegation. This process was quoted by an expert as the “most masterful, most aggressive plan” to achieve a partisan outcome that he had ever seen. In fairness, it must be noted that the Democrats, for some time, had used gerrymandering to their favor in Texas. They concocted a gerrymander that was ‘Texas-sized’, which allowed them to hold on to their majority, though their popular vote drastically declined. For example, in 1994, Republicans received 56-42 percent of the popular vote, but only 11 out of 30 of the congressional seats. But, Congressman DeLay had a plan to roughly double the Republican majority. The Democratic Texas gerrymander already had been modified by court action when the rise in population added two House members to the delegation. Congressman Delay planned to capture both Houses in the State Legislature. Through this aggressive gerrymandering plan, the 2002 election gave Republicans both houses and the governorship. Thus, the Republican gerrymandering plan was put in place.

In League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, a group of citizens challenged Congressman DeLay’s plan, alleging constitutional and statutory, one of over a hundred cases filed in the country related to state legislative and congressional redistricting following the 2000 census. The question before the Courts was: Did the Texas Legislature violate the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act when it used 2000 census data to redistrict in 2003 for partisan advantage, resulting in districts that (by 2003 numbers) did not conform to the one person, one vote standard? The Supreme Court held that the Texas Legislature’s redistricting plan did not violate the Constitution, but that part of the plan violated the Voting Rights Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that District 23 had been redrawn in such a way as to deny Latino voters as a group the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choosing, thereby violating the Voting Rights Act. Justice Kenney also stated that nothing in our Constitution prevents a state from redrawing its electoral lines as often as they choose; it simply must be done at least once every ten years.

In the 2003 Perry case, the Supreme Court declined to resolve whether partisan gerrymandering claims presented nonjusticiable political questions. However, in 2019, Rucho v. Common Cause, the Supreme Court addressed questions about gerrymandering in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts; he stated that Federal courts are charged with resolving cases and controversies of a judicial nature. In contrast, questions of a political nature are “nonjusticiable,” and the courts cannot resolve such questions, which essentially leaves states with the ability to use partisan gerrymandering to draw and create political districts.

Author: Peter Lyn René is an Adjunct Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. He has Bachelor in Political Science and a Master in Law and Public Policy. He is currently a candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy in Law and Public Policy degree, expected Mach 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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