Interim Report on an Interim Committee

As some readers of this blog know, I was appointed to a Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, convened by the Indiana Legislature. Yesterday was our second meeting;  we heard three presentations and took public testimony.

The first presentation was… interesting. It was offered by Jim Bopp.

For those who don’t know of him, Bopp is an uber-conservative Indiana lawyer on the wrong side of pretty much everything: he was the architect of –and won–Citizens United, and he has argued against same-sex marriage, reproductive choice….He’s pretty infamous in Indiana but until he appeared before the committee, I was unaware that he had any background in redistricting.

Actually, if his testimony reflected his knowledge of the issue, he probably doesn’t know much about it; he just favors anything that keeps Indiana Republicans in control. (In a later presentation, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm–an expert on the law of redistricting– noted that Bopp had made several assertions that were factually inaccurate.)

Bopp’s basic argument for keeping redistricting in the legislature was straightforward, if bizarre: Since all choices inevitably have partisan consequences, establishing an independent commission to draw district lines would not be any better than the system we have now. (I am not making this up.)

When Senator Lanane asked him if having elected officials draw their own districts wasn’t an inherent conflict of interest, he disagreed, offering a convoluted argument that allowing lawmakers to choose their voters is no more self-interested than letting people vote for a representative whose policies will benefit them. ( I couldn’t make that up!)

I asked Bopp whether he was familiar with the academic literature suggesting that public trust in the legitimacy of the system improved in states that adopted nonpartisan redistricting. He dismissed the public’s opinion as an artifact of a biased media. I wasn’t sure I’d understood his response, so I asked him a follow-up, “Do I understand you to be saying that the public’s attitude is irrelevant?” and his answer was “yes, because the public’s attitude is the result of propaganda, and is wrong.”

So there.

The other presentations were markedly more substantive and informative. Tom Sugar presented his “No Politics Plan” modeled on the redistricting system used in Iowa. (It can be accessed here.) Judge Boehm led us through the thickets of current constitutional law on the issue. (Most of what he presented is included in my paper on Electoral Integrity: How Gerrymandering Matters, which he was kind enough to review for me a while back.)

When it came time for public testimony, we heard from citizens ( some of whom had come from as far away as South Bend), and representatives of statewide civic organizations. Not surprisingly, all of the public testimony urged reform of the current system.

I am convinced that if the Interim Study Committee acts, it will be because so many citizens turn out every time there is a hearing. This one was on a Thursday afternoon, after relatively short notice, and the hearing room could not hold them all; an equal or larger number was in the hall, watching the proceedings on a television. The message was unmistakable: Indiana citizens want change. They want competitive, meaningful elections. They want trustworthy democratic institutions.

Unlike Jim Bopp, they don’t think the players should get to be the umpires.


  1. While working as legal counsel at the Indiana Department of Education in the late 1980s, one of my responsibilities was to draw school board district lines for schools switching from appointed to elected school boards. I worked with Indiana Common Cause to solicite proposals from the community that met the criteria of coterminous, contiguous and compact districts. Common Cause also submitted a proposal. We then held public hearings to solicit input on the proposals. In South Bend the school superintendent was more than eager to work with the plan. In Ft. Wayne, the Superintendent was overtly hostile to public input.. Much like Jim Bopp, he thought my job was only to do his bidding.

  2. For those of us unable to attend any of the meetings, is there a preferred way to contact members of the commission? Topics of this nature are important enough that an email probably isn’t going to be as effective as something on actual paper–it’s too easy to mass-select a group of emails and hit the delete button. (I should know; I do it daily.) But a piece of paper has to be *touched* and at least glanced at.

    It might be good for people to also know when the next meeting is. If the commission is inundated with letters and faxes between now and then the message of desired change will continue to be heard.

  3. I suggest writing Rep.Jerry Torr, co-chair of the committee and very interested in a fair and workable result.

  4. Sheila; I feel confident you will bring forward intelligent arguments, based on provable facts and to the benefit of the public, as a member of this committee. Over the past 20 years or so the GOP foundation has been built on “conflict of interests” using “convoluted arguments” and public opinion has been irrelevant throughout their stranglehold on Indiana and this country. The current presidential election fiasco is proof of GOP’s lack of intelligent decisions and their lack of control of their Tea Party owned party foundation…all built on gerrymandering and bought and paid for by corporate America.

    I have voted in every election since 1958; state (Indiana, Nevada and Florida) and national and I feel my vote is of little value at this time. But; being a stubborn, hard-headed old woman – I will continue to fight for who and what I believe is right. Ending gerrymandering is one of those battles in this war to return the country to the people. Sheila, you are currently our warrior on this local issue; well girded for battle, but do you have the troops backing you up to gain any ground?

  5. I was completely shocked to read that an Indiana lawyer was the architect of Citizens United. Then I came to my senses and realized that this should not be shocking. How did a lawyer with such ridiculous statements in your meeting yesterday ever convince the SCOTUS to approve Citizens United? Well, that seems pretty obvious that the conservative judges had decided they wanted it to be law before any arguments were ever presented to them in court.

    Sheila, I would have also been there if I had known about the meeting. Could you give us a notice on this blog about future meetings so those of us who are able to attend can do so?

    Finally, it seems that it would be an excellent idea to publish transcripts of the meetings somewhere online so all Indiana citizens could have actual knowledge of the content of these meetings. Is that possible?

  6. Since your commission was appointed by the state legislature, its report will need to be accepted and turned into law by that same legislature. Good luck to you.

  7. I remember Jim Bopp as the person who crafted the RNC resolution calling for the Democratic Party to change its name to the Democratic Socialist Party. This was, of course, just a bitter response to the 2008 election of Barack Obama, and since the RNC had no authority to change another party’s name, nothing came of it. (Instead, the RNC issued a resolution condemning President Obama and Democrats in Congress for leading the country toward socialism.)

  8. re Bopp: It’s hilarious to hear of a Republican essentially arguing in favor of amorality in government – so that government can dictate morality. Only a lawyer’s suspension of disbelief could allow such a stream of contradictions; not sure how he deals with the cognitive dissonance.

  9. It must have been an unusually “heavy news day,” because nothing appeared in the Indianapolis Star. (Oh yes, Frank Vogel was fired and rethinking Blue Indy was front page). In addition, besides Bopp the other formal presentations appeared to be members of the Committee — Boehm and Sugar. This Committee may want to consider taking its show on the road to Indiana neighborhoods. I realize it isn’t the hottest of topics, but it affects all of us and its work could have significant ramifications, good and bad, for many years.

  10. I recall Bopp from IU campus politics. I was unfavorably impressed by his extreme right-wing stance then. It’s reassuring to see he has pursued the career goals I anticipated for him. He should be allowed no closer than 300 miles to an Indiana redistricting map.

  11. Lenny, I don’t know Bopp; however, my husband shares your unfavorable impression for similar reasons. Bopp and my husband grew up in Terre Haute, attended high school together, and still is remembered by many of his classmates as the Big Bopper. Strange how early in life certain rigid tendencies are noted.

  12. You know there is an argument for oligarchy. It is that the man on the street is stupid, easily led, and unable to even consider the complexities of government. That’s was what the British colonial government believed and was a major issue of the Revolution.

    Our founders struggled and finally settled on a step between oligarchy and democracy whereby they assumed that it was less like for landowning white men to be stupid, easily led, and unable to even consider the complexities of government so a baby step towards freedom at all is freedom for all was worth the risk.

    We did the rest.

    Republicans never really believed in freedom and democracy and their actions today are merely a reemergence of their belief in colonial rule.

    We the people created democracy, we alone can keep it or give away the gift of those who have given all for our freedom.

    We don’t need to shoot, just vote. If we choose to give it away the Brits were right. We are too stupid, easily led, and unable to even consider the complexities of government to deserve to be free.

  13. I actually interviewed with Mr. Bopp for a position as a law clerk, back in the days of the dinosaurs when legal research was conducted by actually going to the law library and locating and reading the relevant decisions published in the state and federal reporters.

    Back in the day, attorneys around the state often hired current law students to do that research for them, since the students had easy access to the law libraries at their schools. The law clerks usually communicated the results by phone or mail, and rarely spent any time in the lawyer’s office.

    I was unaware of his reputation at the time, and only learned of it many years later. I suspect that working for him would have been a *fascinating* experience.

  14. it was not Bopp that gave us Citizens United; it was the Supreme Court of the United States, from whose bar I resigned after Bush v. Gore. I now agree with Mitch that we delay any effort to see to an appointment of an associate justice. We will wait for Hillary to submit Obama’s name to a newly-elected Democratic Senate, holding the current nominee’s name up for submission at a later date upon a new vacancy or vacancies.

  15. Bopp is a perfect example of one whose partisan ends justifying his means.

  16. According to my Senator, Brandt Hershman, he is unaware of any complaints about redistricting–other than anecdotal. Considering it is impossible to actually contact the Wizard, I am surprised he was even aware of the anecdotal. Must have been cornered at his monthly ALEC meeting…. He, like so many of these ‘popular’ Republicans, has built a wall around himself Trump would envy…..

  17. girl cousin; I love your comments. Terse but informative, biting but controlled, insulting but factual, funny but sad; totally thought provoking, making me wonder where my senator is today and if he is aware gerrymandering is going on here in Indiana.

  18. Jim Bopp was involved with a situation up here in Fort Wayne back in 2007.

    During the mayoral primaries, an out-of-nowhere candidate named Matt Kelty won the Republican nomination because of his anti-abortion politics in a low-turnout primary. After the primary, Kelty listed his campaign donations, which included a $100,000 personal loan to his campaign. When asked where he got that money, he said it came as personal loans from two major anti-abortion people in town. He also said that since they were personal loans (predicated upon him staying in the mayoral race) he didn’t need to list them on his campaign report.

    Other people disagreed, and the Allen County Election Board held a hearing on the subject. Jim Bopp, who is also a major player in the anti-abortion crowd, was his attorney. The two Republicans on the Board lobbed softball questions at Bopp and Bopp essentially tap-danced around the questions from the lone Democratic member. As expected, the Board decided 2-1 not to pursue charges.

    The Democratic member resigned from the board and requested a grand jury, which was eventually held, and Kelty eventually plead guilty. Kelty also lost the mayoral election. Bopp was nowhere to be seen by this time, having left Kelty long before, as did at least one other set of attorneys.

  19. Thanks for sharing Sheila, I’m relieved you are on this committee. I would love to lend my voice to a future hearing. Please promote if you are able. Gerrymandering is the root of so many evils in our political system. Having a non-partisan citizens redistricting committee would be the first step in more sane political process. Step 2 would be open primaries. Baby steps…

  20. Sheila,

    Once again I am so pleased to read your clear, strong statements and ideas, this time about redistricting and the ridiculous comments and ideas of Mr. Bopp.
    Thank you.

    Walt Dalsimer

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