Cleburne Times-Review Article for 1 July, 2006
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”
--1 Peter 2:1
I recently got to meet Jimmy Carter. He was in Austin for a fundraiser on behalf of his oldest son, Jack, who is running for the US Senate from Nevada. The former President was every bit as warm, gracious and charming as you would imagine, and he was nice enough to sign my copy of his book, “Turning Point.” It details his campaign for the State Senate in the early ‘sixties, when Georgia, like other states, was dealing with the effects of the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Baker v. Carr, 369 US 186 (1962), the famous “one man, one vote” decision. In a nutshell, Baker held that US Congressional districts (and in a companion case, state legislative districts) had to be approximately equal in population. This overturned a long-standing practice in many states of diluting urban votes by giving them fewer representatives than rural areas. It was one of many ways states tried to suppress the political power of blacks and Hispanics. The effect of this ruling, plus the Voting Rights Act of 1964 (VRA; currently held hostage by a variety of nitwits in Congress, including Cong. John Carter of Texas who longs for the days of literacy tests), was to dramatically increase the number of black and Hispanic members of Congress. However, around the time of the 1990 Redistricting, the George H. W. Bush Justice Department imposed a quota system on states as a condition for pre-clearance of their maps as required by the VRA. If your state had, let’s say, a 15% African-American population, then 15% of your Congressional districts had to be majority African-American. This had two effects; first, white Democrats’ districts became harder to hold, as minorities were taken out of their districts and packed into majority-minority districts. This lead to the sharp increase in Southern Republicans in Congress, which makes John Carter’s arguments more ironic, but no less stupid. The second effect was to force the creation of bizarre, twisted, bug-splatter-pattern-appearing districts that were eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Vera, 116 S. Ct. 1941 (US 1996). All this lead to Tom DeLay’s 2002 plan to use illegal corporate contributions to win control of the Texas Legislature, then use his pets like Speaker Tom Craddick to re-do Texas’ congressional districts mid-decade to abolish democracy and punish rural voters who tended to vote Republican in Presidential elections but preferred their Democratic Congressmen. Now the US Supreme Court has, for the most part, signed off on this tactic, though they struck down the 23rd Congressional District of Texas for stripping away Hispanic voters who refused to vote for Cong. Henry Bonilla. Justice Kennedy held open the possibility of striking down future maps that showed “excessive partisan gerrymandering,” but frankly, if Tom DeLay’s abomination isn’t “excessive” enough, then nothing is. So what does this mean? For one thing, it means that if Democrats are going to win the House of Representatives in November, they will have to do it without any significant help from Texas. Worse than that, though, it means sheer unrivalled political chaos for the foreseeable future unless something is done to prevent state legislatures from redistricting every time political control of that state passes from one party to another. After all, there’s no reason why Democrats couldn’t get in on this scam, too. Democratic-controlled state legislatures have so far held off on using the DeLay Strategy, but there’s nothing to hold them back now. California, for example, has 20 Republican Congressmen, despite the fact that California went for the Democratic presidential candidate by wide margins in four consecutive elections. If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger loses his bid for re-election, Democrats there could easily gerrymander several Republicans out of existence. The same thing could happen in Ohio, where Democrats are expected to win control of the state government due to public disgust over a variety of Republican scandals. In order to prevent this kind of insanity from spreading, Congressman Chet Edwards is proposing a law that would ban mid-decade redistricting. That’s a good start, but the House Democratic Leadership should also pledge that, if they win a majority, they will use Congress’ power under Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution to mandate that Congressional district lines be drawn by non-partisan panels without regard to protecting incumbents. Normally, I’m not a big fan of “non-partisan” panels of “experts” doing anything, but in this case, advances in computer technology, combined with men like Tom DeLay who have all the personal ethics of slime mold, allow politicians to literally pick their voters, and not the other way around. When I worked for the Texas Attorney General during the 1990 Redistricting Litigation, we thought our huge, clunky Unix systems were futuristic; now, much more advanced software than we used to draw districts can be downloaded off the internet and run on a laptop, or even a PDA. We could draw districts down to the block level; now they can be drawn house-by-house, almost voter-by-voter. It’s bad enough that our democratic institutions can be bought and sold on the auction block (another practice recently approved by the Supreme Court); we simply cannot allow politicians this kind of unfettered power to thwart the will of the people.