Talking Points Memo summed up the dilemma for American democracy in the face of the Supreme Court’s dishonest, cynically partisan decision.
The chief’s opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause doesn’t withstand even basic scrutiny. The court’s majority decided that partisan gerrymandering disputes are “non-justiciable” — that is, the courts can’t intervene in them — because, essentially, courts aren’t equipped to come up with a standard to determine when gerrymanders go too far. Never mind that the lack of what the court calls a “judicially manageable standard” appears to have literally never held the justices back before on any other issue. Never mind also that, as the Brennan Center’s Tom Wolf has pointed out, five different federal courts, relying on the work of respected political scientists, have had little trouble coming up with manageable standards to strike down partisan gerrymanders in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Maryland. To Roberts, it’s all a bunch of “sociological gobbledygook.”
It’s hard not to see Rucho as a direct relative of past Roberts court rulings that likewise crippled our democracy, like the Shelby County decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Citizens United decision striking down campaign finance rules, the Crawford case upholding voter ID laws, and the Husted opinion allowing purges of voter rolls.
So the Court isn’t going to protect “one person, one vote. The Court leaves in place a tactic that, according to the Cook report, has created today’s political reality: 19 out of 20 voters reside in a non-competitive Congressional District.
That’s where we are. The urgent question is: what do we do?
The easy answer–which is by no means easy to accomplish–is to elect Democrats. Everywhere. City, State and federal offices. That’s not because Democrats are angels, or unwilling to play the gerrymandering game–one of the cases before the Supreme Court was from Maryland, which had been redistricted by Democrats for Democrats. But for a number of reasons (including the fact that Republicans have been much better at partisan redistricting and by far the most numerous beneficiaries of it), Democrats have made fair redistricting an important policy commitment.
If Democrats take the Senate, the House bills Mitch McConnell refuses to hear will pass–Including the all-important H.R.1, the sweeping democracy reform bill that would expand voting access. fix our campaign finance system, and make redistricting fair and transparent. Without a Democratic Senate, however, H.R. 1 won’t pass.
What else can we do?
A local answer that is “doable” in some states is to mount a referendum. These have been very successful in states where such mechanisms are available. Indiana, unfortunately, is not one of those states.
Long-term, what we need in Indiana is an amendment to the state’s constitution. That document currently places responsibility for redistricting with the state legislature–a provision that creates an obvious conflict of interest. It places decision-making in the hands of those whose interests will be affected, allowing lawmakers to choose their voters rather than the other way around.
The problem is, efforts to amend the Indiana Constitution–ideally, to provide that redistricting will henceforth be the responsibility of a nonpartisan or bipartisan commission–must originate with that same conflicted legislature.
I invite my more creative lawyer and political friends to weigh in, but after much “mulling over” (and not an inconsiderable amount of alcohol), here’s the best advice I can come up with for our not-as-Red-as-people-think Hoosier state:
We need a “movement.” (I’m aspiring to Hong Kong sized….)
Furious Hoosiers can build on the coalition already in place under the auspices of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. We should make lots of noise; we should endorse candidates for the General Assembly who commit to support a constitutional amendment addressing gerrymandering; and we should “call out” legislators who sabotage efforts at representative government.
I realize it won’t be easy. Common Cause has been fighting this battle for nearly 20 years, and Indiana is still the 5th most gerrymandered state in the nation. But over that time, many more people have come to understand the problem. What the forces of change have going for us now is anger–anger at the corruption of Trump and his Administration, anger at the Vichy Republicans who put party before country, and anger at a partisan Court that rewards Mitch McConnell’s willingness to cheat.
However energized the anti-gerrymandering movement, however, there is no escaping the conclusion that the first order of business is turnout in 2020.
Indiana was blue in 2008, partly because a lot of people who didn’t often vote, did. And as I have pointed out before, even Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering won’t protect the GOP super-majority if we have massive turnout.
A tsunami of votes in 2020 can “jump start” a grass-roots effort to make “one person, one vote” a reality.
If that fails, so does democratic self-government.
Happy 4th of July.