Monday, December 17, 2018


Democratic leaders in the New Jersey state legislature are scrapping a plan that would have gerrymandered the state on their party's behalf, in response to objections that came from fellow Democrats as well as Republicans:
Legislative leaders in New Jersey announced this weekend they would not move forward with a proposal to redraw legislative districts that would have essentially written gerrymandering into the State Constitution....

The proposal was opposed by numerous political factions: Republicans, progressives, nonpartisan pollsters, Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who is a Democrat, and Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general under President Barack Obama who is the current leader of a national group combating gerrymandering.
When news stories about the gerrymandering proposal appeared last week, Kevin Drum, with tongue in cheek, expressed support for the plan, for a very specific reason:
I am all for this. Is that because I’m a political hack who eagerly looks forward to giving Republicans a taste of their own medicine? Of course not. It’s more that ... it would ... oh hell. Yes, that’s part of it. The prospect of watching Republicans whine and moan about this is really pretty delightful.

But here’s the real reason: this is the only thing that will ever get the Supreme Court off its butt to do something about gerrymandering. I’m dead serious here. Conservatives on the Supreme Court aren’t likely to ever address gerrymandering until it’s crystal clear that Democrats can be every bit as ruthless and shady as Republicans. As long as red-state Republicans pass bill after bill screwing Democrats, while blue states like California and New Jersey and New York do nothing, there will always be a majority on the Supreme Court to shrug it off as a “political” question and do nothing.
There's a case before the Supreme Court right now, concerning a pro-GOP gerrymander in Wisconsin and a pro-Democratic gerrymander in Maryland. Would a New Jersey gerrymander have tipped the Court toward rejection of gerrymandering across the board?

I doubt it. Even if New Jersey Democrats had gone ahead with their plan, there are far more opportunities nationwide for Republicans to gerrymander, because Republicans, even after the 2018 midterms, have a "trifecta" -- control of the governor's mansion and both houses of the state legislature -- in more states than Democrats, as Ballotpedia notes:
Entering the 2018 midterm election, Republicans had a [+18] state trifecta lead: of 34 states with trifectas, 26 were Republican and eight were Democratic. But after the votes were counted, Democrats increased their trifecta total with a net gain of six, and Republicans declined to 23 trifectas (a net loss of three).
Republicans still have a 23-14 lead in trifectas. And even though Democrats now have trifecta control in New York State as well as California, more Americans (42.1%) still live in GOP trifecta states than in Democratic trifecta states (34.4%). Republicans continue to have trifectas in some big purple (and potentially purple) states -- Florida, Ohio, Texas. Therefore, if the Supreme Court upholds gerrymandering, Republicans will have more opportunities to take advantage of it.

If you want to argue that rejecting the New Jersey gerrymander hurt the anti-gerrymander cause in the courts, you might also have to argue that anti-gerrymander referendums hurt the cause. Four of them passed this year -- in Michigan, Colorado, Missouri, and Utah. That's a good thing -- but it's likely to lead the High Court to conclude that gerrymandering is a problem that the system can solve on its own, through normal democratic processes, without judicial intervention.

I'd still like the Supreme Court to intervene, but I don't think that was likely even before New Jersey scrapped its gerrymander. Better to just keep fighting them all, on behalf of democracy.

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