Supreme Court Gets Territorial

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When the Supreme Court heard the soporific oral arguments about why Tom DeLay's 2003 Texas redistricting plan lacked any "rational, legitimate public purpose," it was reported that Justice Ginsburg actually fell asleep in her custom-made chair. Remarked Tim Cavanaugh at the time: "Finally, A Ruth Bader Ginsburg decision I can support."

Three months later, the SCOTUS has awakened to reject statewide gerrymandering claims made against Tom DeLay and his crew. The only district with which the high court found a problem was the West Texas district represented by Henry Bonilla, which SCOTUS ruled to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the voting power of Latinos.

While lower courts have struck down such redistricting in the past, the new ruling opens the door for renewed redistricting efforts across the nation. The onus is now on state representatives to control themselves, and on voters to control them. Another alternative is something modeled on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's defeated plan to hand the redistricting power to an independent panel of retired judges.

I know what you all are wondering: What does Jeff "Voice of the New Media" Gannon have to say on the matter? Well, his only qualm lies in the fact that he thinks West Texas is already Hispanic enough. "What is nonsensical about the decision is that Henry Bonilla is Hispanic!" he notes, clearing things up.

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  1. “I know what you all are wondering: What does Jeff “Voice of the New Media” Gannon have to say on the matter?”

    Yeeeeah, that’s exactly what I was wondering. Miss Cleo, is that you?

  2. Actually, Jeff Gannon makes a valid point about Henry Bonilla.

    Also, note the advertisers on Gannon’s blog include “Hot Tubs.”

  3. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but wouldn’t it be simpler just to base district maps on county lines or zip codes? I thought that the whole idea of representative democracy was that politicos stood for the interests of a state or region therein, not a political or racial ideology.

    Or maybe I’m just a tad sensitive to the issue of openly silly Gerrymandering, since that long, snaky bit in the middle of my state belongs to the inimitable Mel Watt.

  4. I thought that the whole idea of representative democracy was that politicos stood for the interests of a state or region therein, not a political or racial ideology.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahaha.
    Hahaha. Ha.

    Oh, lordy, you do crack me up.

  5. The onus is now on state representatives to control themselves, and on voters to control them.

    I was going to rent the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” this weekend, but there’s no point. It can’t be anywhere near as horrifying as that statement.

  6. Doesn’t this decision kill the Libertarian party? It would seem that in states controlled by lefties, the gerrymandering (and the left WILL start with the games) will reflect economic liberal views, and the righties will look to the god-bangers for a sure win. Does anybody think that the Libertarian Party has a chance of growing (forgiving for a moment all y’all who vote GOPer)?

  7. “It would seem that in states controlled by lefties, the gerrymandering (and the left WILL start with the games) will reflect economic liberal views, and the righties will look to the god-bangers for a sure win.”

    Start? You wouldn’t put it like that if you lived in California. :-/

    Since I moved to LA every change in my “elected representatives” has come from being gerrymandered into a new district, not anything that happened on election day.

  8. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but wouldn’t it be simpler just to base district maps on county lines or zip codes?

    Congress has two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    One of the bodies, the Senate, is drawn up so each state has equal power, regardless of size. This is designed to not let the most populous states run roughshod over the states with small population. Stated differently, this was designed to help ensure there was no tyranny of the majority.

    This is something the Senate, and the US government as a whole, seems to have forgotten and so we have al kinds of laws created because the majority don’t like some things, such as smoking.

    The other body, the House, is drawn up so that each House district has approximately the same number of voters, although each state is guaranteed at least one Representative in the House. Every decade the number of seats each state gets is redistributed according to census numbers.

    The whole point of the House is that each American ought to get roughly the same “value” for his vote. (I’d add her to his, but we all know this was not the original intent of the Founders of the Constitution). Zip codes have less to do with population than they do area, same with county lines. Thus they would make poor substitutes.

  9. Happyjuggler

    Not knowing the methodology behind ZIP code allocation is not the same as not knowing the constitutionally-indended methodology behind allocation of representatives.

    Political Gerrymandering (e.g. the above-linked NC rep map w/ Watt’s ridiculous district 12) abuses the allocation-by-population methodology to create districts with the same number of people (roughly) to shape the ideological make-up of Congress, rather than using the natural population distribution to determine Congressional districts (Watt’s district literally splits others’ up within a number of densely populated areas based on voter ideology).

  10. happyjuggler0,

    I think you are left out one important point:

    “One of the bodies, the Senate, is drawn up so each state has equal power, regardless of size. This is designed to not let the most populous states run roughshod over the states with small population. Stated differently, this was designed to help ensure there was no tyranny of the majority”

    There was an additional design consideration: the members of the senate being appointed by state legistlatures permitted state governments to influence or block federal legistlation. There were several instances of senators being recalled and replaced because they had voted against the instructions sent to them by the legistlators who had appointed them.

    The abject subordination of state governments to the federal one was sealed by those who convinced people to support an ammendment that placed the election of Senators in the hands of the electorate.

    I consider this to have been the final nail in the coffin of state sovereignty which was effectively killed by Abraham Lincoln’s dirty little war.

    Of course, being a Rothbardian Anarchist, I don’t view the demise of the old “Federal” older envisdioned by the coup plotters who wrote the U.S. Constitution as some fall from Eden. While I would prefer to return to such a political order over the present one, the fact is that it facilitated unacceptable levels of exploitation and oppression, albeit more limited in scope than the current system.

    It is, however, an interesting exercise to envision how many current political issues would be handled had the system persisted as originally designed by the coup plotters like Madison and Hamilton.

    First, I expect that there would be no unfunded mandates

    The thirteenth ammendment would pretty certainly not have been ratified.

    The progressive movement would probably not have been able to cartelize the U.S. economy in World War I and then again in the late ’20’s. While states like Oregon, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts, to name a few, would have attempted to perform such cartelization, loss of population to freer states would have limited their depradations.

    There would be states that practiced oppressive social engineering, in the form of racially discriminatory laws, marriage laws, compulsory schooling laws etc. Again, the ability of people to vote with their feet would have probably have served as a check on the problem.

    It’s a very interesting mental exercise…

  11. Hold it. If the court found a problem with one district, that means there was a problem with the whole redistricting scheme. You can’t draw, or redraw, on district’s lines in isolation.

    Imagine that ten districts are drawn in such a way that all the black people are gerrymandered into one 99% black, serpentine shape, and the other nine end up 5% black. Saying there is a problem “only” with the majority black district is a rejection of the lines of the other nine as well.

  12. IIRC, before the redistricting the Democrats had a pretty substantial edge over the Republicans in total congressional seats in Texas. Now that’s pretty screwed up. I was looking at the area of Texas I used to live in, and the redistricting seems less gerrymandered — the neighborhood I live in no longer has about five different congressmen.

    With all the technology today, I think it would be pretty easy to create a program that creates districts using reasonable criteria. Perhaps there could be some randomness added so, for example, nine plans could be created and both parties get four vetoes each.

  13. You know, if one is concerned about gerrymandering, there’s always proportional representation. I’ll just cut and paste my comments from other threads:

    1) In a bicameral legislature, it would be best to only elect one chamber by PR, not both. Obviously the US Senate shouldn’t be changed in that regard.
    2) I’m not talking about statewide or nationwide elections for the lower chamber. In the US House, small to mid-sized states could serve as districts electing up to 10 or so legislators. Larger states could be divided into districts, with each district electing 5 to 10 legislators. On the state level, the lower house could be divided up among districts of 5 to 10 members.
    3) I’m not suggesting the party list elections that European countries often use. There are plenty of ways to keep the focus on individual candidates rather than parties. See the Center for Voting and Democracy for more info.
    4) I’m not suggesting a parliamentary system that goes unstable and requires a new election every time a legislative coalition falls apart. The executive would still be elected separately, but one house of the legislature would simply be elected by PR.
    5) Yes, I realize that this is a republic, not a democracy. My goal is to get the best representation for the people, rather than a system where the majority in a district gets all the representation while the minority gets no representation.
    6) For those who lament large district sizes distancing people from their legislators, when’s the last time the legislator from your gerrymandered district paid any attention to you?

  14. Garrison,

    I’m not in favor of the current gerrymandering, and that was not the intent of my post.

    I’m merely pointing out that the House districts simply must be as close to proportionately equal in size as is practical, whereas geographical representation was covered by the Senate.

    I know of no decent way to make things more sensible though. I voted for CA’s three retired judges thingy, but the majority of voters didn’t seem to think it was better.

    Perhaps we ought to pass a law stating that in addition to be equally sized by population, that each district ought to be as close in geographic shape as possible to other districts. There would still be gerrymandering, but it would definitely make it more difficult to make things as lopsided as they are now.

  15. tarran,

    Good point about the states acting as a check on federal power before the 17th amendment. It only took five more presidential elections since it passed in 1913 before the federal government granted itself massively more power.

  16. thoreau,

    I am absolutely in favor of proportional representation or some other non-district representation for the House of Representatives. No federal constitutional change would be required: it would be entirely a rewriting of state law. Having the most representatives as well as a healthy fetish with wacky politics, California could make this change by initiative.

    However, I disagree with your notion that any districting is needed. All seats should be statewide. I have more in common with a libertarian in Blythe — or, for that matter, Augusta — than I do with my next door neighbor. I’d rather not have those libertarian sentiments diluted by districts of any shape or size smaller than the states themselves.

  17. Is there any compelling reason that districts must be contiguous?

    What would the draw backs be of local leaders, mayors perhaps, being able to form a district or multiple districts by caucus?

  18. MikeP-

    The only reason I call for districting is that there are some issues in holding elections for 53 seats at once. Sure, it can be done, but some might prefer something more manageable.

    In any case, districts of 10 or so would be a huge improvement.

  19. The problem with proportional representation, as I see it, is that you’ll wind up with a lot of one-party delegations from each state. So, if California’s delegation is 75% D now, under PR it will be 100% D. And vice versa for, say, Texas.

    For those who lament large district sizes distancing people from their legislators, when’s the last time the legislator from your gerrymandered district paid any attention to you?

    That’s a false dichotomy. There may be ways that we can retain the benefits of small districts while cutting down on gerrymandering. My proposal of requiring all but one district in each state to be rectangular would take care of that, I think.

  20. The problem with proportional representation, as I see it, is that you’ll wind up with a lot of one-party delegations from each state. So, if California’s delegation is 75% D now, under PR it will be 100% D. And vice versa for, say, Texas.

    Um, no. Proportional representation is proportional. If the Dems command 60% support then they’ll only pick up 60% of the seats, not 100%. There’s more than one way to do it. You don’t need a system where you vote for a party rather than a candidate. (That’s one way, but it isn’t the only way.) There are lots of ways to design a system so that members are elected at-large, but a bloc comprising X% of the voters can only elect X% of the reps (give or take a little for rounding error, e.g. if there are 10 reps and a group has 35%, they’ll elect 3 or 4).

  21. Imagine that ten districts are drawn in such a way that all the black people are gerrymandered into one 99% black, serpentine shape, and the other nine end up 5% black. Saying there is a problem “only” with the majority black district is a rejection of the lines of the other nine as well.

    yup that is what the court said…you can gerry rig it for political views and economic class you just can’t for race….i wonder if by gender would be OK?

    This is all wierd and if anything is true it is that democrates give a rats ass about gerrymandering….exept of course when it goes agaist them….ie california and Washington state…a fun trick is to look at Spokane Washington and wonder why there are any democrates ever elected in eastern washington

  22. The ultimate reform, the end of gerrymandering, of all manipulation, of politics itself–selection of representatives by lot. Just like we select jurors, except from a pool of volunteers. And with a stipend higher than $6 a day. It’s an old twist on representative democracy. Any takers?

  23. Look, whatever mandering Gerry chooses to do, whether it splits up Baker Street Right Down the Line or not, we should support congress’ efforts to make sure that we all stay Home and Dry. Even if we’d rather be High and Dry. But I mix my genres.

  24. Reps. in the House should be “elected” by “voters” depositing their proxies, one-by-one, with the candidates, a la L. Neil Smith’s Continental Congress in his Confederacy series. We might want a threshold level of proxy-votes per congress-critter. A number ? some large percentage of the average vote cast in a competitive district might suffice.

    Kevin

  25. Gannon have to say on the matter? Well, his only qualm lies in the fact that he thinks West Texas is already Hispanic enough.

    Oh, my, yet another false, insulting statement by Reason about people they disagree with. Isn’t that clever?

    Here’s what it actually said:

    What is nonsensical about the decision is that Henry Bonilla is Hispanic! Does this mean Hispanics can only be properly represented by Hispanics who are Democrats? Remember when then Democrat Rep. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus opposed the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the DC Circuit Court because he wasn’t “Hispanic enough”?

  26. ‘”What is nonsensical about the decision is that Henry Bonilla is Hispanic!” he notes, clearing things up.’

    The only thing this clears up is that Jeff Gannon doesn’t know the difference between Hispanic people’s interests and their skin color.

    Hey, a guy with two silent Ls in his name was elected, so the concerns and beliefs of Hispanic people MUST be well represented through him.

  27. Nor, apparently, does Mr. Lemur.

    Race-based tokenism of the worst sort – the assumption that people of a certain ethnic group are well represented if someone of the same background holds office, regardless of how alienated from that representatives beliefs the vast majority of his constituents are.

    It’s the political beliefs, not the skin tone.

  28. So instead of voters choosing their representatives, we have representatives choosing their voters. Great.

  29. Ammonium said: With all the technology today, I think it would be pretty easy to create a program that creates districts using reasonable criteria. Perhaps there could be some randomness added so, for example, nine plans could be created and both parties get four vetoes each.

    This program exists and Texas taxpayers paid for it. It was developed by the Texas Legislative Council which is a state agency that screens all submitted bills and perfoms related work for the Texas Legislature. The program does include some randomness and so does not create exactly the same map when it is run using the same input data. The software can be configured to ignore or respect a slew of data including race, income, voting habits and so forth. The major parties often use this tool to draw their gerrymanderred maps.

    During the last set of hearings on redistricting the Texas Libertarian Party proposed a plan that was very much along the lines of what you mentioned with added specification that the program inputs would be limited to a small set of criteria that included respecting existing political boundaries and creating compact regions and not much else.

    No legislator put our plan forward although many from both sides of the aisle told us in private that they preferred our plan. Right now we are looking to publicize our plan and do other activities related to this issue in the days ahead. One immediate concern is that we need a crisp marketing name for our plan. Any suggestions?

  30. I have to agree with Ammonium; is there not a technological solution to this problem? I’m thinking of a computer program that could randomly draw districts, perhaps with constraints on the area to perimiter ratio that would prevent the crazy sprawling shapes we associate with gerrymandering. I don’t see how any Replublican/Democratic legistlature can possibly be expected to not redraw the districts to their own maximum advantage. We should take it as given that this will occur. It seems like a computer program is the only way to ensure that this is done free of bias and controversy.
    Ummm, just like the Diebold voting machines….

  31. Maybe chimps with crayons could do the job.

  32. There has been a lot of discussion of redistricting algorithms on the Election Methods Mailing List. For more info on the list, go here.

    You can design algorithms that make geometrically compact districts with equal populations (well, equal within whatever percentage tolerance you give it, and that can be fairly small). You can give the algorithms instructions to respect city lines, county lines, rivers, mountain ranges, and other natural boundaries whenever possible.

    Such algorithms are certainly more likely to give competitive districts than carefully calculated gerrymandering, and I’m all in favor of them as an improvement on the status quo.

    The problems that remain are endemic to single-member districts:

    1) No matter what your algorithm, you can always generate more than one map that meets the same criteria. The only way to avoid the one that produces the most blatant gerrymandering is to not let partisan officials choose among the possible maps. Some states have indeed done that (e.g. Iowa). Many states don’t, sadly.

    2) Single member districts with plurality voting still favor a two-party system, and there’s no guarantee that the partisan breakdown of the delegation will match the partisan breakdown of the voters.

    Proportional representation is still the better way to go. Sadly, that won’t happen. The next best step is non-partisan districting and Approval Voting.

  33. Henry Bonilla hapens to be my Representative. From his website:

    DISTRICT FACTS

    • The 23rd District of Texas spans two time zones, three climates and is 52,620.74 square miles according to the 2000 Census figures.
    • The State of Texas is 261,797.12 square miles. Congressman Bonilla represents 25 counties, which accounts for approximately 20 percent of the total square miles in Texas. The 23rd District is the largest district in the State.
    • The 23rd district is larger than 24 states including Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Tennessee, Ohio and Virginia.
    • It includes some of the fastest growing communities in Texas: Laredo, San Antonio, the Big Bend/Davis Mountains region and El Paso, just to name a few.
    • The 23rd district spans close to 800 miles of the Texas/Mexico border.
    • It supports a unique economic base ranging from oil and gas, ranching and farming, health care, defense and business linked to border trade.
    • The 23rd district stretches northwest from San Antonio, across the Permian Basin region to El Paso. It then stretches along the Texas/Mexico border, south across the Big Bend country to Del Rio and then down to Eagle Pass and South to Laredo.

    Just not many people/square mile. BTW, Henry has represented District 23 for over a decade, including back when the Democrats had drawn the lines. Map available at http://bonilla.house.gov/Default.aspx?section=district&page=map.

  34. The problem here does not apear to me to be with lines on maps but in fact it is a problem with national parties…mostly a perseption problem at that. Reps, unlike presidents or senetors are fairly indepentant as individuals and it is not out side the range of republicans to have a fairly liberal individuals among them in the house as there are also fairly conservative democrat reps…with such a range it is possible to get the rep you want even though he or she is not of the party you like…in sum the best solution for those who feel under represented my suggestion is to swich parties and try to change who represents you at the primaries.

    A very doable solution as my experiance has taught me.

  35. I think the real problem with Bonilla is that he’s a total douchebag.

  36. Texas is a GOP state. Under the Dem gerrymander, there were 17 Dem reps and 15 GOP reps. How does this make sense?

    Under the current gerrymander, it’s 21 GOP to 11 DEM. That’s 66% GOP. Bush received 61% of the vote. Now, which gerrymander is more representative?

    I am surprised and impressed that the SCOTUS did not automatically assume that a Hispanic Rep represented Hispanic interests.

    Heaven protect us from Proportional Representation where every nutjob political party gets a seat and we have unstable minority governments.

  37. Heaven protect us from Proportional Representation where every nutjob political party gets a seat and we have unstable minority governments.

    How’s that? Proportional representation would get you roughly 21 GOP to 11 DEM in the case of Texas. You might have to deal with, horror of horrors, a single Green or Libertarian.

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