Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Redistricting Process

Redistricting is a controversial power that is governed by state law. By definition, redistricting is the process by with district lines are drawn within the confines of the mandate number of representatives per state. In order to firmly grasp the process of redistricting, one must understand the general process that occurs, the saliency of the issue, the concept of gerrymandering, and the Supreme Court rulings and political implications associated with redistricting.

Following every census and reapportionment, states are required to redistrict. States are required to enact redistricting legislation. Special procedures like an independent commission and combination of commission and legislative action are often used. State legislature is the most common method of forming districts. Commissions are rarely used in forming districts. Some political scientists argue that commission should be used more frequently thought. Commissions create more politically competitive districts. Commission-based redistricting has other benefits as well. It limits careerism and the influence of money. This has positive effects on the political system. It creates an environment where politicians are held accountable for their actions more.

Redistricting has two major constraints. States must submit plans to redistrict to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court for approval. Districts must be equal in population within a small margin as well. Redistricting must also follow the standards set by the Supreme Court. In the following clip, a U.S. Representative and the assistant Attorney General discuss the constitutionality of a Texas redistricting ruling. The attorney general discusses the approval process of the districts. The Voting Rights Act is also mentioned.

It is important to not confuse redistricting with reapportionment. The two are directly related but they are not the same thing. Reapportionment determines the number of members a state has. When a state creates districts, they use these numbers to divide the territory into equal populated, winner take all districts. It reduces the overwhelming incumbency advantage, and give freshman candidates a chance at introducing a new platform and winning an election.

The saliency of redistricting differs between states. Redistricting isn’t an important political tool or issue in states with low populations. Parties and candidates are less likely to receive any political advantage when the state isn’t divided into several districts. Several states, like Alaska and Wyoming, only have one district. The Political environment in these states is virtually unaffected by redistricting. The saliency of redistricting is greater in states where the process will have an impact on elections and political outcomes. Redistricting has a bigger significance in large states like Texas and California. The process reaches its controversial peak when states loose a district and have to draw new lines. It can become particularly interesting when redistricting puts two incumbents against each other. When this occurs, voters will have to make the tough decision on who they should keep in office.

Following the 2010 Census, states like California, Texas and Arizona are expected to gain new member seats. These states will create more districts. States like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York are expected to lose seats. The redistricting that will occur after the 2010 census will certainly create an interesting political environment. Competition could increase, and well known incumbents might have to face each other in future elections. Gerrymandering may also be a result of the 2010 census.

Gerrymandering is one of the most controversial aspects of creating districts. It is characterized by long narrow, oddly shaped districts created for political advantage. After the 1990 Census, racial gerrymandering became a sensitive issue that caused uproar. Racial gerrymandering and incumbency make redistricting a controversial issue. Racial gerrymandering has helped elect several African American and Hispanic representatives by creating minority majority districts. The Constitutionality of this practice has come into question in recent years. According to the American Congress, The courts have made a series of confusing ruling on the issue. Racial Gerrymandering continues to be a controversial aspect of redistricting for several reasons. Civil rights, the Voting act, and affirmative action make rulings on the issue unclear.

In the following clip, Representative John Tanner, from Tennessee, attempts to explain the origins of gerrymandering, along with some of the repercussions. He explains how urban areas were initially underrepresented in the 1960s before significant redistricting occurred.

The 12th districts in North Carolina and New York City are prime examples of racially motivated gerrymandering. The 12th district in North Carolina is a long thin region that creates a majority black district. It doesn’t take communities into account. The oddly shaped region is clearly motivated by a political agenda. The 12th district in New York City is an oddly shaped area that is heavily populated by Hispanics.

Gerrymandering can also create an unfair advantage for the party in power. District lines can be drawn that give an incumbent or political party a significant advantage in future elections. A prime example of party gerrymandering occurred after the Supreme Court ruling in Westberry V. Sanders in 1964. The court decision lead to redistricting in many states. This gave political advantage to democrats because they dominated state courts. This type of gerrymandering creates districts that are more likely to vote for a particular party, as well as re-elect a particular candidate in future elections.
In the next clip, Rep. Max Sandlin discusses a Republican friendly redistricting plan in Texas. He argues that his current district will be underrepresented by the then majority’s plan to redistrict. In many circumstances, the needs and best interests of the constituents are compromised for political gains.

Sandlin’s passionate argument makes some relevant points. Redistricting should focus on fulfilling the needs of communities and cities. It shouldn’t be used as a tool to win elections. Neighborhoods and communities with similar interests should be grouped together as oppose to creating districts that don’t consider the needs of their constituents.

Gerrymandering is a significant reason for increased re-election rates. This type of redistricting has decreased completion dramatically. Party balance continues to be skewed and distorted after district lines are redrawn. Both political parties have benefited from redistricting in various states. Overall, the Supreme Court has yet to form any concrete decisions on Political gerrymandering. There are several implications and it is still unclear what constitutes actually constitutes as Gerrymandering.

There are several key Supreme Court rulings that have made valiant efforts in determining the constitutionality of redistricting and political gerrymandering. Baker V Carr is one of the more significant court decisions. It was one the first politically charged court decisions associated with redistricting. It supports the 14th amendment and creates the theory of one man, one vote. The previously mentioned Westburry V. Sanders also analyzes whether or not the 14th amendment was upheld. Karcher V. Daggett established mathematical equality. This is an important ruling because it addresses districts were essentially equal in terms of population, but were still drawn in a skewed way that gave a particular part a political advantage.

There are several conclusions that can be made about the current state of redistricting in the United States. The saliency of the issue will continue to increase unless there is a new method of drawing district lines that doesn’t favor one party over another. Gerrymandering has yet to be clearly defined in a way that can be easily recognized, therefore is will continue to be an issue every ten years. Increased polarization will also have an adverse affect in creating district lines. Redistricting is a difficult political process because of its influence on the political system. The Supreme Court will continue to struggle with rulings on the issue, more specifically gerrymandering. Reynolds V. Sims brought states under the same umbrella of equal protection as the U.S. Legislature.

Smith, Steven, Jason Roberts, and Ryan Vander Wielen. The American Congress. 6th. New York: Cambridge Press, 2009. 53-70. Print.