Well-respected constitutional law scholar Sandy Levinson of the University of Texas Law School has a post on Balkinization about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in partisan gerrymandering cases. He argues that because the Supreme Court basically told federal judges they have no jurisdiction to intervene at all, direct action in the states is the only solution.
Thursdays decision by the Supreme Court declared that partisan gerrymandering is “non-justiciable.” Federal courts have been ordered to look the other way, regardless of the egregiousness of the attempt by entrenched political elites to choose their voters and thus maintain themselves in power. Almost all “progressive” groups, plus more non-partisan “good government” groups rightly bewail the decision. As Justice Kagan writes in dissent, the widespread use of ever-more sophisticated techniques of gerrymandering is a direct threat to our self-description as a democracy…
The kinds of reforms that are truly necessary must be done by “We the People” ourselves through effective political organization and movements.
One can already see this happening at the state level, where aroused citizens have taken advantage of the “initiative and referendum” to engage in significant and welcome reform. This has happened in states ranging from California and Arizona to Maine…
Unfortunately, many states emulate the national Constitution in rejecting any real role for “direct democracy.” In those states, one must hope that state courts enforcing their own constitutions—the United States constitution is one of only 51 in the entire United States, and the other 50 constitutions all differ from the United States Constitution in important ways—to preclude partisan gerrymandering. This has happened, for example, in Pennsylvania.But, ultimately, it will take an energized country-wide movement willing to ask fundamental questions about how best to organize our electoral system in the 21stcentury.
This is exactly right. The judicial remedy has been eliminated. We’ve already seen the effectiveness of direct action through the referendum process. We saw it here in Michigan last fall to create an independent redistricting commission and take the drawing of legislative districts out of the hands of the legislature, which have an obvious incentive to rig things in their party’s favor. And it’s an easy thing to sell. Michigan voters ratified the referendum by a massive 61-39 vote. Colorado passed a similar referendum with over 70% support, Missouri was 62-38. Only in Utah was the outcome close, ultimately passing by a tiny 50.34% to 49.66% margin.
So let’s get to it, people. Emulate the campaigns that proved so successful in other states. Get out there and knock on doors, collect petition signatures, raise money for ads, do all the things necessary to pass this crucial reform. Contact the National Democratic Redistricting Commission, a central organization advocating reform and helping organize campaigns. It’s chaired by former AG Eric Holder.