February 09, 2004
Stopping reredistricting before it begins

The DLC highlights a proposed amendment to the Alabama state constitution regarding mid-decade redistricting.

Down in Alabama, State Rep. Marcel Black of Tuscumbia, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, noticed the very different outcomes of the Colorado and Texas power grabs, and did exactly the right thing: He's sponsoring an amendment to the Alabama constitution that would clearly limit congressional redistricting to once every decade.

Alabama has a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Republican governor, so Black's proposal may well have legs, since each party would be protected from a future power grab by the other. Such an amendment makes sense in any state where the constitution is silent on this issue. It's a no-brainer on public policy grounds, and probably on public opinion grounds as well. It's hard enough for voters to adjust to new districts once a decade. If districts are subject to more frequent changes whenever one party or the other gains or loses control of legislative branches and the governorship, we could soon see an endless round of re-redistricting actions that could bring chaos to the political life of many states and the country as a whole.

Raising this issue, moreover, could help draw attention to the more general problem with contemporary redistricting practices: the growing tendency to make most congressional districts safe for one party or the other, radically reducing the number of competitive seats, and turning the "people's branch" of Congress into a large mass of hyper-partisans who are insulated from public opinion and fear nothing politically other than a primary challenge from someone claiming even greater fidelity to partisan interests. That phenomenon already has a lot to do with the disconnect between the ideological and partisan warfare in Washington and the moderate views of a majority of the American people Congress supposedly represents.

Well, I'd rather this be taken up on the federal level, but if state by state is the best I'll get, I'll take it. Not that I'll be holding my breath, mind you.

Thanks to JD for the tip.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 09, 2004 to Killer D's | TrackBack

I'll drink to the thought expressed in the final paragraph. Unopposed incumbents frustrate me.

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 10, 2004 2:42 PM

i don't favor a constitutional amendment to limit redistricting to once every decade in alabama, or any other place. of course, i don't live in alabama, so what i think about their constitution is probably almost completely without relevance.

but it just seems to me that the elected officials who might potentially abuse a situation without such an amendment are already sufficiently answerable to the voters, who are the only parties whose opinion of such potential abuse matters. I paraphrase reverend goebbels: when i hear the phrase "good public policy," i reach for my revolver, because it almost always denotes an example of a would-be elitist attempting to accomplish through regulation or judicial activism some "it will be good for them, the poor dears" outcome not supported by the electorate or the marketplace.

if enough people in Texas think that the recent redistricting was bad, the people who perpetrated it will be voted out of office. if not, then let's all drink to democracy. we already know it was legal. the voters get to decide what is wise, not the DLC and not the bench.

Posted by: abelard on February 10, 2004 9:00 PM

I tend to agree, Kuff, that a federal-level restriction would be superior, and it could probably be done by statute without the requirement of a constitutional amendment. (A federal-level statutory restriction might not be binding upon state legislative redistricting of their own legislative districts, however.)

I would support such a restriction if it applied only to genuine legislative redistricting, however; I would not support a restriction that treated redistricting done by federal court panels as a state's once-per-decade redistricting. Otherwise, there would be an overwhelming political incentive for the minority party to fight for stalemate in hopes that they'd do better with the judges than they could do on their own.

As with all proposed solutions to limit gerrymandering, however, the party then in power would have to be very far-sighted to give up its existing advantage and accept any restriction. It's a "good government" reform, but almost by definition has only a minority as its natural constituency — as Ken Armbrister will be quick to confirm.

Posted by: Beldar on February 12, 2004 9:07 AM