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Court gives green light to gerrymandering

Commentary:

The U.S. Supreme Court has just stripped away the final protections against gerrymandering.

With a series of rulings in the 1960s, the court established that the 14th Amendment required political districts to be redrawn so that, “the vote of any citizen is approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the state.”

The Roberts court has taken a two-step approach to dismantling those protections. In 2019 the court ruled that while gerrymandering intended to dilute the political strength of racial minorities was still a violation of the 14th Amendment, gerrymandering to give one political party an advantage over the other was just fine. That was step one.

Step two came last week. In a 6-3 party-line vote … oops, I mean ruling … the court found that because minority voters tend to side with Democrats, there really is no difference between partisan gerrymandering and racial gerrymandering.

The court overturned a ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court, after redistricting in that state resulted in 60 percent of black voters in Charleston County being moved out of their district. The local NAACP alleged that Republicans had used racial data in drawing the new lines. South Carolina Supreme Court justices, who were all appointed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, listened to the evidence and agreed.

Now, the new standard is that evidence of racial gerrymandering should be seen as “circumstantial,” unless there is no other possible explanation for the district changes. Justice Clarence Thomas wants to go even further. In his separate opinion, Thomas suggests that all rulings from the 1960s designed to ensure the principle of one person, one vote should be discarded.

Gerrymandering has always been a dirty part of our political process. It allows for minority voters to either be packed together or broken apart, whichever works to the advantage of the majority.

And, it has played a huge role in deepening the political divide in our county. Politicians in so-called “safe” districts only have to worry about challenges in the primary election. That forces Republicans to move further to the right and Democrats to move further to the left to hold onto their seats.

There is a growing movement to remove the power from state legislatures and allow independent redistricting commissions to redraw the maps every 10 years based entirely on demographics, not politics.

The New Mexico Legislature briefly considered the idea in 2021 before opting to gerrymander the Second Congressional District instead. The southeast Republican stronghold of “Little Texas” was broken into thirds, and a Democrat won the seat for just the third time since the district was created following the 1980 Census.

But the idea of an independent commission isn’t going away. There will be more time to coordinate before the next Census in 2030 and likely more pressure on Democrats to take politics out of the equation.

The challenge is, even though gerrymandering is wrong, there’s no question that it’s effective. Should states run by Democrats do the right thing even if those run by Republicans don’t, and that means losing seats in Congress?

 

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com. Walt Rubel's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.