Gerrymandering is the process of drawing a Congressional district in strange and odd shaped ways to ensure that certain candidates or political parties can easily win the district. The name comes from Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, who became the governor of Massachusetts, and used his power to push through a redistricting map that overwhelming favored his political party, the Democratic-Republican Party. One district was said to look like a salamander, and critics labeled it a Gerry-mander. The name stuck for the process of drawing bizzarly shaped districts to give a political party an advantage at the polls.
Modern politicians, armed with modern computers, have perfected the art of Gerrymandering, and now most Congressional districts are reliably partisan. This has the negative effect of making them more extreme. This is a process described by many politicians and commentators, and President Obama mentioned it in his 2016 State of the Union address.
The system produces some undemocratic results. In 2012 Democrats won roughly 1.3 million more votes in House races, but Republicans won 234 seats to Democrats 201 seats. In 2014 Republicans won 52% of the vote in House races, yet won 57% of the seats in Congress. This system makes voters think that the system is rigged, and undoubtedly makes them cynical and uninterested in politics. It’s time to end this practice.
A number of previous Congressional Apportionment acts included language that was designed, in theory at least, to thwart Gerrymandering. The 1911 Apportionment Act, for example, said that Congressional districts shall be “composed of a contiguous and compact territory, and containing as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.” Unfortunately the 1929 Apportionment Act did not contain this language, so states have been much freer in their attempts to Gerrymander districts. Since then there have been attempts to re-introduce legislation to limit Gerrymandering, and also litigation to deal with the effects of excess gerrymandering. In 1986, in the case of Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109 (1986), the Supreme Court said that excess gerrymandering could violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, but didn’t define what would constitute a district that would be too strange to pass muster. In Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267 (2004), the Supreme Court held that a certain district did not violate the equal protection clause. The case was a plurality opinion, with no majority. The minority said that Gerrymandering could violate the 14th Amendment, but four of the five justice in the plurality said that political gerrymandering was a purely political question and was therefore “nonjusticiable.”
Just this week Florida Congressman Alan Grayson (D), introduced the Fair Districts Amendment, which would eliminate partisan gerrymandering. The amendment is patterned after Florida’s Fair District Amendment, which requires that districts “consist of contiguous territory.”
My proposed Amendment would more closely mirror the terminology of the previous Congressional apportionment acts. The reason for this is that this terminology has a judicial history, so the words have already been defined. My proposed Amendment would simply state:
Congressional districts shall be composed of a contiguous and compact territory and containing as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.