A Bit Far Out…But…

Anyone who follows politics in today’s U.S. of A. is aware that gerrymandering is at the root of much of what ails us. There’s a reason Democrats have a chance to retain Senate control in the upcoming midterms: Senate races cannot be gerrymandered. (Okay, the fact that several GOP candidates are wacko has helped.) If voting majorities decided the composition of the House of Representatives, Democrats would easily hold that chamber–but political scientists tell us that barely a handful of House districts are currently competitive. They’ve been gerrymandered by both parties, but mostly by the GOP.

I’ve written (a lot) about the issues raised by gerrymandering, and I won’t repeat the litany here (although I encourage you to read my academic paper analyzing those issues–and weep…).

Thus far, our highly politicized U.S. Supreme Court has declined to get involved, piously declaring gerrymandering to be “a political question.” So a recent ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court wasn’t just a breath of fresh air–it was a light at the end of a dark tunnel. (Okay, I’ll quit the hokey metaphors, but I really, really loved this court’s conclusion!) Here’s the lede:

In a remarkable decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Friday that because the state legislature was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, Republican lawmakers may have lacked the power to approve amendments to the state constitution and put them before voters.

The decision, which the court’s 4-3 Democratic majority issued along party lines, stopped short of granting the plaintiffs’ requests to strike down two amendments passed by Republicans in 2018—one to require photo voter ID and another to cap any state income tax at 7%. The justices instead returned the case to the trial court for further findings, though its framing of the dispute indicates that there’s a strong likelihood the state courts will ultimately invalidate the amendments.

The court’s conclusion was buttressed by the fact that a large number of the state’s legislative districts had been struck down in 2017; the federal courts found they had been racially drawn to discriminate against Black voters.

However, Republicans who had been elected under the unconstitutional maps used their supermajorities to place their amendments on the ballot the following year, when they were ultimately approved by voters.

The heart of the argument was the legitimacy of actions taken by illegitimate lawmakers:

The plaintiffs, who are backed by the NAACP, made the unusual—but not unprecedented—argument that the GOP’s widespread illegal gerrymandering rendered the legislature a “usurper” that legally lacked the power to amend North Carolina’s foundational governing document because it had “lost its claim to popular sovereignty.” A lower court agreed in 2019 by striking down the two amendments, but a 2-1 Republican majority on the state Court of Appeals reversed that ruling along party lines in 2020, leading the plaintiffs to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The decision sending the case back to the trial court instructed that court to consider three questions: whether the amendments that were subject to the protest  would “immunize legislators … from democratic accountability,” whether they would “further the exclusion of a particular class of voters from the democratic process,” or whether those amendments were  intended to discriminate against the same type of voters who had been discriminated against by the illegal gerrymandering. If the trial court found the answer to any one of these three questions be “yes,” s/he would be “require[d]” to strike down the amendments.

I was particularly struck by the first question, addressing “democratic accountability.” 

In Indiana, it is a given that our statehouse is occupied by lawmakers lacking that “democratic accountability.” A number of academic studies have ranked the state among the five most gerrymandered in the country. It’s been a long time since I studied Indiana’s Constitution, but I do recall that Part Two, Section 1 declares that  “All elections shall be free and equal.” I also remember the (very strained) decision in Bush v. Gore to the effect that voting must pass an “equal protection” standard.

How equal are the votes of gerrymandered Hoosiers? How “democratically accountable” are the lawmakers who hold their positions thanks to the very denial of that equal protection?

In gerrymandered Indiana, we have plenty of evidence that rural ballots count more than urban ones. The citizens who reside in “blue” cities have less voice in state government than the citizens who live in the “red” exurbs and rural precincts of the state. How is this situation “free and equal”?

Calling on the Hoosier state’s creative lawyers…


  1. Sheila writes, “How is this situation “free and equal”?”

    Nothing in an oligarchy is meant to be “free and equal.” The monied players are behind carving up the state to retain their power and control of the purse strings to ensure their profits keep flowing.

    The media, also owned by the oligarchy, lamely reports the rulings of the judge in the case based on the unfair laws approved by corrupt lawmakers.

    The system is rigged against the people, and the press has become stenographers for those in power instead of working for the people. And, truth be known, the free press only needs to work for about 30% of the people because the other dimwits will believe comical memes over factual evidence.

    It’s why I howl on Twitter when our Secretary of State talks about democracy and the free press being so essential while hypocritically holding the greatest truth-teller of the free press in a maximum security prison in London when his only crime is telling the truth.

    And the same mindset wants us to believe they have the correct answers and should be in charge of the whole planet. It’s the most twisted, convoluted set of lies and hypocrisies the world has ever witnessed next to Nazi Germany in the 30s.

  2. I’ve given my feedback on this issue before. From the academic studies I’ve seen, Indiana’s gerrymander is biased from a partisan (Republican) standpoint, but it’s not nearly as bad as some states. I looked at one this morning that had the ten worst gerrymandered states and Indiana did not make that list. My guess is we’re probably in the 11-20 range. Nothing to brag about, but far from the worst. Interestingly, when I googled the issue of worst state gerrymander, it appears that residents of every state claims their state’s gerrymander is the “worst.” It reminds me of those people thinking they live in the state with the “worst” state legislature.

    Returning to Indiana, let’s not forget that Democrats controlled the Indiana House just 14 years ago, in 2008. They controlled the Indiana House following several elections 1990-2008 despite not winning anywhere close to a majority of votes statewide. How did the Democrats do it? Gerrymandering! Democrats drew the Indiana House maps in 1990 and 2000. I don’t recall Democrats wanting to change gerrymandering back then.

    It is also important to mention that gerrymandering can only go so far in terms of helping a political party The Indianapolis City-County Council has 20 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Democrats have 80% of the council seats when they have about 56% of the vote county-wide. Pretty bad gerrymander by the Democrats. Except for the fact that the Republicans drew those council districts. In an effort to keep the council majority Republican, the GOP mapmakers drew the districts so closely that the Republican council members got wiped away over the decade when the Democratic numbers continued to improve.

    Gerrymandering has been going on for 200 years. But there is a significant difference today than it was in the past – technology. Technological advances make it easier to precisely identify the partisan leanings of each precinct and to arrange those precincts in districts in such a way as to maximize the partisan advantage over the many districts. Gerrymandering is much more efficient than it used to be.

    Finally, Sheila’s article mentions it but I would give it more of an emphasis. The major problem with gerrymandering is not a lack of fair representation among the parties in the legislative body, but the lack of competitive general elections. Members of both parties can be as extreme as they want knowing they never have to face a competitive general election.

  3. Since Trump’s trip down that escalator in 2015 we have had to learn to live with more than “A Bit Far Out…But” then lose all sense of humor when he was appointed president in 2016. It goes far beyond gerrymandering to the life-and-death decisions of his Supreme Court and his “Big Lie” which rules supreme in this mid-term election which will decide the 2024 election before we know who the candidates are. Republicans will support anyone claiming to be a Republican and Democrats can’t even support one another.

    “In gerrymandered Indiana, we have plenty of evidence that rural ballots count more than urban ones.”

    I said before and will say again; Republican urbanites have created and moved to rural developments where farmlands once flourished to escape urban blight and minorities, taking their votes and many of their polling places with them. Using the old adage of “fight or flight” they chose to flee rather than stay and fight to save our neighborhoods and small businesses. In doing so, they had to destroy our green spaces which severely affects the environment and adds to Climate Change and Global Warming.

    I have supported photo ID for identification in more than voting to protect us from identity theft. Last Saturday my son Scott took me to Lowe’s to purchase a refrigerator, I used my newer VISA credit card which you stick the end into the machine rather than slide down the side which somehow is supposed to somehow provide better protection (no matter who sticks it into the machine). I asked the clerk if he needed my ID, his answer was “No”, my question was “Why not?” The clerk and my son looked at me as if I was crazy. My daughter-in-law had used my VISA with my permission a few months ago and I worried she would get in trouble…maybe I am crazy. But, whatever gerrymandered area I live in or decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court, I will vote for the Democratic candidates and cross my fingers.

    “How equal are the votes of gerrymandered Hoosiers? How “democratically accountable” are the lawmakers who hold their positions thanks to the very denial of that equal protection?”

    That question is a “Bit Far Out…” when we all know the answer and the only solution is to get out the Democratic vote.

  4. You’ve got to love Paul Ogden. His argument that “it isn’t as bad as some states” sounds a lot like the man who cries, “Yeah, I beat my wife. But not as bad as the guy next door.”

  5. Theresa, Aging Girl – you forget Paul’s other argument – the Republicans in Indianapolis gerrymandered the Council districts and did a bad job, ergo, what’s the big deal?
    By the way, I never knew if that redistricting was to “fix” the districts, or to pour money into Susan Brooks’ run for congress through her husband who was overpaid for the job.

    Paul is correct that the real problem with gerrymandering is that the technology has made it more precise.

    Note that several states now have independent commissions. It is pretty evenly split between “red” and “blue” states, except that the largest “blue” states, California and New York, have the commissions, while the largest “red” state, Texas, does not.

    Also note that Texas, a state where the Republicans have honed the science of gerrymandering is the only state to have decided to redistrict/regerrymander again after winning a mid-decade election. After all, why wait for a census if you can rig the elections now?

  6. dump the electorial vote for the popular vote. gerrymandering would dry up.(mcnugget said the republicans would never get elected again) keeping the status quo is only making another issue for what i see as a corrupt state/party,either one..doesnt matter the party, its far too easy today to use data mining and economic maps to determine the party lines. biggest bucket of,the commission of the republican and demo party members who make the choices to keep outsiders out,who represent actual people,instead of suits from harvard,who havent a clue except what they were,told,or, decided what they want. the subject makes for rejection on the part of the citizen to walk away from the vote. the fact is, today,now, we all,,,either vote blue line complete or watch our democracy die in 2024.

  7. Note the “hidden figures” in Sheila’s discussion – the court decisions involved and that it is a court’s partisan majority that determines the extent to which gerrymandering “matters”. There was a time when state and federal judges were just “judges”, not GOP or DEM. You want another root cause for our crumbling democracy? Justice should be justice, not “party/ideology” justice. A hat tip to the Federalist Society and their work over the years…

  8. Calling on Americans to support creative Hoosier lawyers … I wonder if my lawyer friend would take this on. Guess I have to ask.

  9. In Florida, the voters approved a constitutional amendment several years ago that prevents redistricting to provide political parties an advantage. That meant absolutely nothing to our legislature and even less to our governor. The legislature passed a bill that gave Republicans an advantage, but Governor DeMented vetoed it, and called a special session to pass his own version, which went even further, even eliminating one predominantly African American district. One thing that tRump made painfully clear is that you can violate the constitution without breaking any laws. In short, do what you please, you won’t pay any price for it.

  10. How ironic would it be for N.C. to play a positive, redemptive, part in straightening out the political
    quagmire that has become realpolitik in the country!
    “Democratic accountability” is what would, as alluded to above, remove the crazies from the political
    That would be “Far out!”

  11. Unlike Paul, who consistently fails to reference where he obtains the “stats” he likes to “quote” (which are likely just oddball numbers that he has pulled out of thin air), I choose to provide you all with a link to a study on Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering by Dr. Christopher Warshaw, who is considered to be a national expert on gerrymandering.

    The study was commissioned by Women4Change Indiana and I think Sheila previously wrote about this study in her blog.

    Here is the link: https://www.women4changeindiana.org/redistricting

  12. Before you clap for NC….

    “Last week, the North Carolina Republican Party filed a lawsuit seeking to give county election officials the power to reject mailed ballots if they haven’t been properly witnessed, based on signature matching.”

    Guess which party spent time/money on assuring the election of certain folks to “county election official” roles…

  13. I find Sheila’s blog posts interesting almost all the time, even when they are specifically about Indiana, which has little relevance to me.

    I spend a lot of time pondering how to approach communication with people who think very differently than I. Because of the ills I see around the world, I am nearly desperate for debate, discussion and argument about how to address those ills. But how does one argue with a person who (1) has no interest in discussion, and (2) is likely to be hardened in their position by the act. This post suggests that my project is largely futile.

    Despite being interesting, many of these posts are also pretty depressing. But I have to say, this one depressed me (far) more than any other.

  14. Apologies, this post was regarding yesterday’s blog: Choosing To Believe

    (Gerrymandering also depresses me, to be fair.)

  15. Some of you might want to check out Nick Seabrook’s new book: One Person, One Vote: A Surprising History Of Gerrymandering In America. Pantheon, 2022.

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