The Supreme Court gave the green light for gerrymandering last month. Citizens should ‘terminate’ the partisan practice with ballot initiatives.
In March, we were honored to sit side by side at the Supreme Court to hear the arguments in cases we knew would make history.
For the second time in two years, the court had a chance to put a stop to the insane partisan gerrymandering that disenfranchises voters, draws our elected representatives to ideological extremes and, we both believe, is one of the biggest hurdles to an effective and responsive system of government.
Our presence in the court was unique. These days, Republicans aren’t expected to take a stand against partisan gerrymandering. But as a governor and a former governor, we’ve seen firsthand the terrible dangers of what President Ronald Reagan called an “anti-democratic and un-American practice.”
We listened to all of the arguments from counsel and the questions from the justices. We knew our case was strong. One person, one vote is a hallmark of America. But in these cases, it was clear that legislators who drew their own lines were more concerned with political power than revered principles.
Gerrymandering rampant on both sides
In North Carolina, Democrats won roughly 50% of the vote but only took three of 13 congressional seats — 23%.
In Maryland, Democrats reengineered the sixth district in an incredible work of modern art to ensure that 32.5% of the statewide vote gave Republican voters just one of eight districts — 12.5% of the seats. Martin O’Malley, the governor at the time, later admitted, “It was also my intent to create … a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican.”
No one would argue that this is fair representation for voters of either party. The only word for it is “misrepresentation.”
We knew the conservative justices were concerned with judicial overreach, but we also knew the map-drawing politicians in both of these cases were so obvious — actually giddy — about their scamming of the voters that it should infuriate anyone who cared about the right to vote.
And we knew that the disenfranchised voters in both states didn’t have a remedy. They did not have the initiative process that California voters used when Gov. Schwarzenegger was in office to take the redistricting power away from the politicians. Their only recourse was asking their state legislators — who have gleefully abused their redistricting power — to give up that power. Yeah, right.
Partisan districts given ‘OK’ by court
All of this is why, last week, we were certainly disappointed when the justices made the wrong kind of history by giving a green light to this extreme partisan gerrymandering.
Chief Justice John Roberts, you have a brilliant reputation as a legal genius. You know the Constitution better than we ever will. Your opinions are studied by law students all over the country.
Yet, you must realize that only 24 states give voters the power to use an initiative process to reform the system by bringing measures directly to the people without the legislature. You must also know that Maryland and North Carolina voters don’t have that power. Your only answer for them is to ask the villains of the last gerrymander to take it easy next time? Have you ever met a criminal who solves his own crime?
We don’t want to believe this was a political decision. In this case, however, protecting the status quo is no less political than challenging it. This decision sets back the efforts of reformers around the country who know that voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around.
SCOTUS decision is only a setback
In the meantime, we are going to take this as a call to action. In Maryland, Gov. Hogan will reintroduce redistricting reform legislation to put the drawing of districts in the hands of a balanced, fair and nonpartisan commission — instead of partisan politicians.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has already been in touch with campaigners in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Virginia to let them know that he will support their reform initiatives. We have also been in touch with Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and other reform organizations/foundations to let them know that we will continue to work alongside them for reform.
Partisanship over fairness: Supreme Court ditches fairness, voter rights and the Constitution in gerrymandering ruling
The Supreme Court has told the voters that they are on their own to put a stop to this centuries-old scam that becomes exponentially more dangerous as the politicians develop better technologies to refine their malpractice.
Challenge accepted. It’s time for us to get to work, and terminate gerrymandering once and for all.