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Politicial Gerrymandering: "The Same Tyrannical Principle"

by Professor Will Huhn on June 9, 2011

in Constitutional Law,Equal Protection,Wilson Huhn

The single greatest unifying theme in American constitutional history has been the struggle to fully recognize the political equality of every human being.  It is the highest manifestation of the principle "all men are created equal."  Political gerrymandering, just like dozens of other discriminatory electoral devices, tends to destroy that principle.

2012 may not bring the apocalypse, but as the first election cycle after the decennial census it is marked by wholesale political gerrymandering.  Here are some reports from around the country:

Mark Gersh, CBS News: Redistricting Journal: Dems look for big gains in Illinois

Carlos Uresti, San Antonio Express: GOP redistricting map blunts Latino voting power

John Peck, The Huntsville Times: Alabama redistricting efforts stirs concerns of political gerrymandering

Several redistricting commissions across the country are either "packing" the people of the opposing political party into a few legislative districts, thus preserving for themselves a majority of voters in the lion's share of the remaining districts, or they are "cracking" districts where the opposing party has a majority and scattering its voters into a number of different districts, thus depriving of their opponents of a seat they would otherwise win.  Cunning politicians can effectively double their electoral power by drawing the lines to their advantage.  It has been said of political gerrymandering that instead of the voters choosing the politicians whom they want to serve in office, the politicians choose the voters.  As Lincoln said in comparing monarchy to slavery,

No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

People who have power tend to believe that they are entitled to retain power – that they have a superior claim to rule over others.  There is no other explanation for political gerrymandering or any other ruse that is employed to artificially maintain an individual or a political party or a race or a gender or people from a particular geographic area in power despite their inferior numbers.  Some people like to believe that they are superior to others, and that their will – their desires – trump those of other people.  Anyone who truly believes that all men are created equal could not in good conscience engage in political gerrymandering any more than he or she could deprive others of the right to vote.

The trend of history is clear.  We began as a country where only white, male, property owners could vote, but since 1870 many of the amendments to the constitution bring us closer to an egalitarian democracy:  

The 15th Amendment (1870):  The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The 17th Amendment (1913):  The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years ….

The 19th Amendment (1920):  The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

The 23rd Amendment (1961):  The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State ….

The 24th Amendment (1964):  The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

The 26th Amendment (1971):  The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

In recent decades the Supreme Court has repeatedly exercised its power to strike down both "sophisticated as well as simple-minded forms of discrimination" to guarantee the political equality of all people.  

Smith v. Allwright (1944) (the "white primary" system violates the Equal Protection Clause)

Reynolds v. Sims (1963) (malapportionment violates the Equal Protection Clause)

Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) (poll taxes violate the Equal Protection Clause)

Rogers v. Lodge (1982) (at-large representation maintained for racially discriminatory purposes violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Fifteenth Amendment)

The clear course of constitutional history condemns political gerrymandering.  It should be put to rest with all of the other machinations that destroy perfect equality among all citizens to determine our political destiny.

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