Dec 032003
 
Authors: Joe Marshall

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday by a 5-2 margin to

dissolve the new congressional districts drafted by the

Republican-controlled state legislature because congressional

districts can only be redrawn once every 10 years after the census.

Hooray to the court for stonewalling this disgusting display of

partisan politics.

The plan to redraw the districts of states was the brainchild of

national GOP leaders to strengthen their narrow majority in the

House of Representatives. Judges drafted district lines after

partisan deadlock in the state legislature was unable to complete

the task.

Since Republicans now have a firm majority following the 2002

election, they redefined the districts as they saw fit. There is

actually a word in the English language to describe this

practice.

Gerrymandering.

As defined by dictionary.com, gerrymandering, a verb, describes

the practice of dividing “voting districts so as to give unfair

advantage to one party in elections.” An underhanded political ploy

born in and nearly as old as the United States itself,

gerrymandering is an obscene word in politics and is also

illegal.

The practice is named after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry

(pronounced “Gary” although the political term is pronounced

“Jerry”) and his tactic of dividing Massachusetts voting districts

to give his party a distinct advantage in the 1812 election. The

latter half of the word is derived from “salamander,” which

described the odd shape of the district he created and the slimy

texture of the practice.

Gerrymandering was widely practiced throughout the United States

until the 1960s by not redrawing new districts after a census.

Since the population had until this time been gradually moving out

of rural and into urban areas, not redrawing districts had the

effect of diminishing the power of more liberal-minded urban

centers and giving increasingly unfair advantage to rural

constituencies.

According to Sandy Maisel’s political science text, “Parties and

Elections in America,” legislative district lines in Tennessee were

not redrawn for the entire first half of the 20th century, with the

result being that by the 1960s some legislators from the state had

100 times as many constituents as others.

The U.S Supreme Court eventually nullified this practice in the

’60s with two different rulings establishing a standard of “one

person, one vote.” This mandate obliged state governments to craft

districts with equal numbers of voters. While this ruling was

paramount in its rebalancing of the “proportionally” represented

half of Congress, it did very little to stop the practice of

gerrymandering.

State legislatures, usually dominated by conservatives wishing

to keep the scales tipped in their party’s favor, re-draw

congressional districts to minimize the oppositions voting

power.

This is accomplished in one of two ways, the first by dividing

the opposition’s bases of power (cities or regions) among more than

one district to dilute the opposition’s influence.

The second method, more complicated and strategically more

insidious, is conceding oddly shaped territories and letting the

opposition win the district by what author Paul Allen Beck calls “a

large, wasteful majority.”

The courts are notably vague in rulings against both of these

practices, usually outlawing specific acts being questioned, but

almost always for reasons other than unfair and undemocratic

undertones of gerrymandering.

Being careful to tiptoe around the greedy rationale behind the

slanted construction of voting districts, courts usually find

technicalities to support their rulings instead of citing the equal

protection clause of the 14th amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court decision is no different. The court

argued that the Colorado Constitution specifically states

redistricting can only happen once every 10 years with data

collected from the census.

The court opinion did, however, include a chastisement of the

Colorado Assembly. It said state representatives and consequently

the representative part of government would be damaged by a

legislature that redefined congressional districts whenever it felt

the need.

A constant shifting of districts would mean a constant shifting

of constituencies, which would undermine the very ideals of

representative government and, to a lesser extent, democratic

rule.

In Texas state assembly the Democratic minority fled the state

to keep a similar redistricting proposal from being voted into law.

Tom Craddick, speaker of the Texas State House, tried

unsuccessfully to have federal authorities arrested and return them

to Austin so the vote could happen.

They were welcome to vote no. The only purpose of their voting

was to maintain quorum. Only in Texas could voting one’s mind at

gunpoint be considered democracy.

Colorado avoided stacking the deck of democracy and set some

precedent for other states to use when fighting gerrymandering with

this ruling.

Now all that Democrats in Texas need is more Democrats.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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