The Slow Death Of Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency giving favor to one party or class.

The term is named after Elbridge Gerry, who as Governor of Massachusetts in 1812 signed a bill that created a contorted-shaped partisan district in the Boston area that was compared to the shape of a mythological salamander. In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities, known as “majority-minority districts“. Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents.

Since the 2010 Census and the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down part of the voting rights acts, Republicans have been especially adept in using this practice to isolate their opposition taking control of state legislatures and the House of Representatives in several Midwestern and Southern states. The Democrats have only managed to pull this off in one state, Maryland. That is slowly coming to and end. On Thursday a three judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan declared Michigan’s congressional map unconstitutional and ordered it redrawn for the 2020 election.

The three-judge panel said it found that the redistricting plan in 34 congressional and state legislative districts was designed to thwart Democratic voters by dispersing their votes into districts where Republicans dominated, in violation of the First and 14th amendments.

“Evidence from numerous sources demonstrates that the map-drawers and legislators designed the Enacted Plan with the specific intent to discriminate against Democratic voters,” the panel, two judges appointed by President Bill Clinton and one by President George H.W. Bush, wrote in its decision.

The panel ordered the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to come to an agreement with its newly sworn-in Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to redraw the districts from the plan before the 2020 elections. If the state officials are unable to come up with new maps by Aug. 1, the court will redraw them itself.

The violations were so pronounced, the panel said, that all of the state Senate districts in the plan would need to have special elections, meaning that some lawmakers’ four-year terms would be cut short. [..]

The panel noted that the redistricting plan had advantaged Republicans over the course of several election cycles. In three elections in those districts between 2012 and 2016, Republicans won 64 percent of the state’s congressional seats — nine out of 14 — while never earning more than 50.5 percent of the statewide vote, they wrote.

The Michigan ruling now lies with the Supreme Court who last month heard arguments for cases in Maryland and North Carolina where federal panels made similar decisions. It is probable that the GOP majority will request a stay of the order until the Supreme Court rules this June.

Thursday night MSNBC host Ali Velshi, sitting in for Chris Hayes on All In, discussed the ruling with Katy Fahey, founder of Voters Not Politicians and the subject of the documentary “Slay the Dragon,” and the documentary’s producer Barak Goodman.