July 24, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Is This the Ugliest Redistricting Cycle Ever?

The incentive to draw Republican or Democratic districts is so strong that legislatures now create monstrosities, such as Illinois’ 4th district, North Carolina’s 4th district and Maryland’s 3rd district, none of which have any geographic rationale apart from partisanship. On paper, each of those districts looks like an April Fools’ Day joke, not a way to represent Americans.

Communities of interest are chopped up seemingly without any concern for what residents think or want. Democrats chopped up Montgomery County in Maryland solely to defeat a sitting Republican. Republicans in Utah did the same to Salt Lake County with the intention of defeating the state’s sole Democratic Member.

State legislators know that they won’t pay a price for partisanship. Voters don’t focus on process, especially when real issues are out there.

If you think that leads me to turn to nonpartisan commissions or the courts to draw lines, you are wrong.

I distrust the “nonpartisan” nature of commissions, and the idea that one smart person should be empowered to be the deciding vote on what map to choose or how to draw lines strikes me as nuts.

As for courts drawing maps, I have never seen why a judge should be given that responsibility or how he would use his legal training to do so.

In his 1962 dissent in Baker v. Carr Justice Felix Frankfurter argued that “courts are not fit instruments of decision where what essentially is at stake is the composition of those large contests of policy traditionally fought out in non-judicial forums.”

Only 16 years earlier, Frankfurter, writing not a dissent but delivering the court’s opinion in Colegrove v. Green, warned the courts “not to enter this political thicket.”

“Of course, no court can affirmatively re-map the Illinois districts so as to bring them more in conformity with the standards of fairness for a representative system.

“At best, we could only declare the existing system invalid. The result would be to leave Illinois undistricted,” he wrote, clearly failing to anticipate the role that courts now have in redistricting.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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