For Immediate Release
September 2, 2003
Amanda Cooper, 212–998–6736
Activists Ask Supreme Court to Curb Redistricting Abuses
Brennan Center for Justice and ACLU File Joint Amicus Brief
On August 29, 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the United States Supreme Court, urging the court to crack down on abusive partisan gerrymanders. This case will likely have a substantial effect on politics on all levelslocal, state, and nationalfor years to come, but it is especially important now, with re-redistrictings attempted in Texas, completed in Colorado, and threatened by both parties in other states.
States normally redraw their electoral district lines every ten years, creating a new set of districts for elections to state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives. Redistricting in most states is a political process controlled by the state legislature. When one political party controls both the legislature and the governors office, it can create a set of districts designed to make it extremely difficult for the opposing party to gain a legislative majority in the future..
Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of partisan gerrymandering in recent decades, and both parties again produced enormously skewed maps in several states following the 2000 census. The case before the Supreme Court, Vieth v. Jubelirer, was brought by Pennsylvania Democrats, and a Republican challenge to Georgias redistricting is pending in a lower court.
In the 1986 case of Davis v. Bandemer, the Supreme Court said that partisan gerrymanders could be challenged as unconstitutional, but such cases almost invariably fail because lower courts have required plaintiffs to meet impossible burdens of proof. The ACLU/Brennan Center brief urges the Supreme Court to adopt a clear rule prohibiting gerrymanders, like Pennsylvanias, that guarantee one party a majority of legislative seats no matter whether it actually receives a majority of the votes. Pennsylvanians are almost evenly divided between the two parties, but Republicans are expected to control between 12 and 14 of the 19 states Congressional districts for the rest of the decade, even if Democrats get a majority of votes statewide.
“This is not a partisan issue; its about democracy for everybody, says J. J. Gass, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center. If you live in one state, you may be victimized by a Republican gerrymander, but a nearby state can have an equally bad Democratic gerrymander.
This abuse of the system violates our most basic understanding of democracy, the concepts we all learned in third grade: we should be governed by the people that the majority of the voters have selected. But with the sophisticated and inexpensive software thats out there, the party that happens to be in control at the beginning of the decade can draw the district lines so it doesnt matter how the majority votes. Our ancestors fought a Revolution to get the right to vote, we fought another war so that all African-Americans could become voting citizens, and women struggled for decades to be able to vote. Politicians shouldnt be able to make our votes meaningless at the click of a mouse.
The Supreme Court is expected to hold oral argument later this year and issue a ruling by next June.
For more information, please call Amanda Cooper at 212.998.6736.