The United States Supreme Court’s declaration that federal courts have no authority to correct partisan gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts has upset a lot of folks.
The June 27 5-4 decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, adds even more concern for Democrats, who were already angling nationally to keep Republicans from drawing districts to help themselves and punish Democrats.
That’s what happened following the 2010 census, and the 2011 redistricting.
It was a bad electoral year for Democrats, as Democratic President Barack Obama suffered the usual slump in the first off-year elections following his election.
But Democrats suffered further from Republican opposition to the passage of Obama’s pet Affordable Care Act.
It was quickly nicknamed ObamaCare by the Republicans, who vowed to undo it.
The result in 2010 elections was serious losses by Democrats, not just in congress, but also in state legislatures and governorships. And then in 2011, legislators in states without independent redistricting commissions drew electoral districts for the next decade.
Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat and former mayor of Austin, thinks the court dropped a legal bomb on the nation’s redistricting – including Texas.
“In a single opinion, Chief Justice Roberts removed courts from the entire conversation about how far partisans can go to rig the maps in their favor,” Watson wrote in his periodic newsletter, the Watson Wire:
“This not only gives a green light for partisan gerrymandering, but it also makes racial gerrymandering claims more difficult to prove, which is particularly troubling here.”
Watson pointed out that in one ongoing redistricting case, “the district court found that in every decade since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Texas has passed one or more redistricting plans after the census that have been declared either unconstitutional or violations of the (Voting Rights Act).”
In the 2018 Texas congressional elections, Watson noted, Democrats won 47 percent of the vote but only won seats in about 36 percent of the districts (13 of 36).
Texas defended itself in court by saying that was okay, because the mapmakers weren’t trying to gerrymander to discriminate based on race, they were only trying to gerrymander to discriminate against Democrats.
Watson noted that Democrats do this too, in states like New York and California, where they are in charge.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said. “You either believe the voters should have a fair chance to pick their leaders or you don’t, regardless of your party.
“Gerrymandering hurts all of us because it conflicts with some of our most fundamental, democratic values like government of the people, by the people, for the people. And of course it only increases the inability to get things done because of partisanship.
“Those running seek out the most partisan position, refuse to work with others, reject consensus or any moderate thought, because when you’re in a very safe district of either party, you know it’s only the primary voters — those who are the most partisan — who will decide your fate,” Watson wrote. “The battle of ideas is over before it begins.”
Watson said it’s time to pay attention to the process, and the officials designated to draw fair maps, and carry election procedures out with integrity.
Watson said “I’m astounded by how hard we make it for people to vote in Texas ... in the name of election integrity, but really ... it’s done to skew the system.”
Watson said he’s “amazed at the lack of shame ... when over and over the courts said our redistricting maps or our voter requirement laws violated the Constitution ... and officials sworn to uphold that Constitution looked the other way so long as they felt” it helped their party.
“Every voter needs to demand fair maps now because, once elected, there will be little in the way of laws and courts to keep those in control of the Capitol honest when maps are drawn in 2021,” Watson wrote.
“Now is also the time to pay attention and act because both legislative chambers have appointed their redistricting committees,” Watson added. “These committees will soon travel the state to hear from you.
“I appreciate Lieutenant Governor (Dan) Patrick appointing me to the Senate’s Redistricting Committee because this issue is fundamental and will affect all policymaking for the decade to come,” Watson said.
“The people must demand legislative change.”
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Oh, Say Can You See ... Donald Trump dragged out the military to add muscle to honor himself, hijacking the national celebration of unity on the Fourth of July in Washington.
Maybe there was a higher power at work. California had the worst earthquake in 20 years, which stole much of the media coverage.
And there was considerable rainfall in Washington.
McNeely is the dean of the Texas Capitol press corps. Contact McNeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512/458-2963.