It may seem strange, but Virginia Republicans experienced a moment of clarity and were honest about something — specifically, that they don’t want likely Democratic voters’ ballots to matter all that much.Virginia may have gone the way of supporting President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, but the state’s districting map is drawn in such a way that Republicans were able to pick up eight of the eleven districts. One would never expect the GOP to admit that this is intentional, but that’s absolutely what happened.
In a court filing, Republicans had the gall to admit that the state legislature’s “overarching priorities” are to ensure that the districting map is drawn in such a way that it would provide “incumbency protection and preservation of cores to maintain the 8-3 partisan division established in the 2010 election.” In other words, they want to keep the people who are now in office, in office as long as possible.
ThinkProgress notes that:
“2010 was a very good year for Republicans, enabling the GOP to capture unusually large portions of state congressional delegations. 2012, by contrast, was a strong year for Democrats which saw the reelection of President Obama. And yet, by these Republican lawmakers’ own admission, the maps drawn between the 2010 and 2012 elections were draw for the explicit purpose of ensuring that the GOP’s unusually strong performance in 2010 would be replicated year after year — even in years when the electorate was more favorable to Democrats. The GOP’s goal, in other words, was to render congressional elections little more than political theater, an annual ritual that would produce the same 8-3 delegation every single time.”
While it’s difficult to convince the Supreme Court to do anything to combat gerrymandering, Virginia managed to have its attempt to redistrict the state to suppress minority votes — a violation of the Voting Rights Act’s stipulation that congressional maps not cause ‘‘retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise” that has since been weakened by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act. The map in question was used in the 2014 election despite its unconstitutional nature, but the court ruled that new maps must be in place prior to the 2016 elections.
In an effort to protect their stranglehold on the state, Republicans, quoting prior Supreme Court decisions, argue that “when ‘faced with the necessity of drawing district lines by judicial order,’” a court must “be guided by the legislative policies underlying” the original maps “‘to the extent those policies do not lead to violations of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.”
Republicans are incorrect in their assumption that partisan gerrymandering is constitutional. ThinkProgress reminds us that:
In the 2004 case Vieth v. Jubelirer the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a particular partisan gerrymandering suit could not proceed. Notably, however, the Court did not declare that gerrymander constitutional. Rather, it rested its opinion on the notion that courts are not often competent to determine when a partisan gerrymander has occurred or to devise a way to fix it. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a plurality of four justices, “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating political gerrymandering claims have emerged.”
The key fifth vote was supplied by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who also warned that “we have no basis on which to define clear, manageable, and politically neutral standards for measuring the particular burden a given partisan classification imposes on representational rights.” Thus, he concluded that many partisan gerrymanders would have to be tolerated — even if they violate the Constitution — because he did not believe that courts currently have the tools they need to identify and cure such gerrymanders.
“First Amendment concerns arise where a State enacts a law that has the purpose and effect of subjecting a group of voters or their party to disfavored treatment by reason of their views,” Kennedy wrote in the decision, pointing out that partisan gerrymanders are probably unconstitutional. “In the context of partisan gerrymandering, that means that First Amendment concerns arise where an apportionment has the purpose and effect of burdening a group of voters’ representational rights.”
Republicans’ blatant admission that the purpose of the districting map is to protect their majority is not exactly jarring; everyone knows by now that this sort of tactic is the norm among the Right. But it should be a wake-up call to the Supreme Court and, most importantly, to Americans, that we need to do something — anything — to bring some integrity back to the political process.
For more on gerrymandering, check out the following short film:
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Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.