Supreme-Court, South-Carolina, Gerrymandering, Voting, Voting-Rights, Judiciary, Republicans, Democracy, Elections, Constitution

Supreme-Court, South-Carolina

Republicans May Revive the Most Dangerous Kind of Gerrymandering

The Supreme Court could let the GOP abolish a bedrock principle of democracy.

10/22/2021 11:36:00 AM

Think gerrymandering is bad now? The Supreme Court could soon make it much worse.

The Supreme Court could let the GOP abolish a bedrock principle of democracy.

AdvertisementWhen Americans think of gerrymandering today, they typically envision what’s happening in Texas and Illinois: politicians choosing their voters by dividing them up into districts with roughly equal populations but unequal racial or partisan compositions. For most of American history, though, the practice was more insidious. Legislators routinely created districts with divergent populations, placing far more voters in urban districts than rural ones. As J. Douglas Smith documents in

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On Democracy’s Doorstep, these gulfs in population were staggering. In 1960, for instance, Vermont had House districts with as few as 38 people and as many as 33,000. New Jersey’s Senate districts ranged from 48,555 people to 923,545, Georgia’s from 13,050 to 556,326, Idaho’s from 915 to 93,460, Arizona’s from 3,868 to 331,755, and California’s from 14,294 to 6 million. Congressional districts weren’t much better. In 10 states, the largest House district had more than twice the number of residents as the smallest. In Texas, the largest district was four times more populous than the smallest. In Michigan, the ratio exceeded 7 to 1.

AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementThese malapportioned maps were discriminatory in both intent and effect. America’s cities were filled with racial minorities, immigrants, Catholics, and Jews. To prevent these disfavored groups from gaining control of state legislatures or the House of Representatives, racist and nativist politicians packed city dwellers into a few gigantic districts, then spread (predominantly white) rural residents throughout the rest. As a result, white, rural voters had far more voting power than their diverse, urban counterparts. To take the most extreme example, if you lived in Vermont’s smallest House district in 1960, your vote counted about 868 times more than a resident of the largest House district.

South Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts indisputably violate one person, one The Supreme Court finally put a stop to this anti-democratic state of affairs inReynoldsandWesberry, ruling that constitutional principles of equality require one person, one vote. A state’s legislative and congressional districts needed to have nearly equal populations. To achieve this goal, the court compelled states to redraw their districts after each decennial census. That’s why after the 2020 census most state legislatures are now deep in the weeds of new maps.

AdvertisementNot South Carolina’s. The state has taken a lackadaisical approach to redistricting: Rather than redraw maps this fall, both houses of the state legislature adjourned with “no plans” to hold a special session and no timeline for redistricting. It appears the legislature will not reconvene until January 2022, 11 weeks before candidates are obligated to announce their run for office and six months before the primaries. Redistricting is almost always a complex, drawn-out process that requires months of negotiations. And it is especially contentious and time-consuming in South Carolina, whose maps have been litigated every decade since 1970. Federal courts have repeatedly found that state lawmakers malapportioned districts in violation of the one person, one vote rule.

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