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The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party

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Every ten years a census is taken. Then all legislative districts at the local, state and federal levels must be redrawn to make sure that they are approximately equal in population -- about 640.000 residents per U.S. House district. State legislatures draw the new district maps. If one party controls both bodies of the state legislature, they tend to rig the maps to favor the incumbents. This practice is called gerrymandering.

Of course, the Religious Right didn't invent gerrymandering, and Democrats try to use the process to their advantage as well. Republicans, however, have elevated this practice to new heights with former House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay winning the prize.

The system needs to be reformed. Two states -- Iowa and Arizona -- have actually removed this important job from the hands of self-serving incumbents and given it to independent bodies that use non-political criteria. The results have been generally positive. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court had two opportunites to rule against the practice of partisan gerrymandering, but didn't.

Supreme Court Rules on Redistricting, April 28, 2004

At the time of the 2002 election, Pennsylvania had 3.7 million registered Democrats and 3.2 million registered Republicans, but after the election, the state's Congressional delegation went from 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans to 12 Republicans and 7 Democrats. (New York Times, April 28, 2004)

Democrats cried foul, and three voters sued in federal court, claiming the redistricting deprived them of their right to equal protection. A three-judge federal court in Harrisburg dismissed the suit, saying Democrats had not demonstrated sufficient injury, and the case (Vieth v. Jubelirer, No. 02-1580) was appealed to the Supreme Court.

The A.P. reported April 28, 2004 that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Pennsylvania redistricting plan.

The ruling drew a verbal as well as written dissent from Justice John Paul Stevens ( news - web sites ). Speaking from his seat on the bench, he said the courts could not sit by when state leaders of one political party take over boundary-drawing in an "invidious, undemocratic and unconstitutional practice. ... The Constitution does not require the fox to guard the hen house."

The New York Times calls the Supreme Court decision upholding Pensylvania's district lines a "hit" for Democracy.

Yesterday's 5-to-4 ruling was an enormous missed opportunity...

The best hope for democracy is for a future court, perhaps with different membership, to reconsider this issue. Until then, voters should start demanding district lines that produce real elections. Iowa, which has long had a nonpartisan redistricting commission, is a worthy model for other states.

A Loss for Competitive Elections, New York Times, June 29, 2006

"When politics is out of citizens' control, it is no wonder that so few people vote."

"Forget what you've heard about big money buying election outcomes in U.S. House races." writes the Washington Spectator (11/1/03.) "...incumbents and party leaders have gerrymandered districts to such an extreme that they have done away with competitive House elections in most states."

"Politicized redistricting is a direct threat to key democratic values like electoral competition, representation, governance and choice for voters." Excerpts from the Washington Spectator:

"Behind closed doors, party leaders and incumbents produce bizarrely contorted legislative districts that one party leader called "any contribution to modern art... The bewildering shapes defy description or explanation other than as the capricious acts of a powerful class of politicians looking to guarantee themselves lifetime employment and party pre-eminence."

"... In George Bush's Texas, redistricting has been like a horror movie... Because he is occasionally frustrated by the defection of Republican moderates, Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Majority Leader has made it his urgent priority to increase the number of conservative Republicans in the House."

The Gerrymander Moment:
Led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and George Bush's political mastermind Karl Rove, Republicans have brought the blood sport of legislative redistricting to new lows by spurring Texas and Colorado to gerrymander congressional districts mid-decade. But a ruling on Dec. 1 by Colorado's Supreme Court tossing out the state's plan suggests that there may be limits to particularly brazen abuse of political redistricting.

With the Supreme Court set this week to hear oral arguments in Vieth v. Jubelirer -a challenge to a Republican partisan gerrymander in Pennsylvania that marks the first gerrymandering case taken by the court since 1986-we will soon know if the court could step in where Congress and most states have abysmally failed and set public interest standards for redistricting. But even if the court does take action, it will be just a start to establishing a reform that is critical to any effort to claim democracy in the United States.

Congressional district maps have have become so outrageous that, prior to the Supreme Court rulings, appelate courts started getting involved. A Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the efforts of their Republican-controlled legislature to gerrymander Congressional Districts. The Court took a stand for electoral fairness by striking down a partisan redrawing of the state's Congressional district lines. It held that districts should be drawn once after the census, not whenever a party sees a chance to pick up seats.

On June 8, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court: New York Times, June 4: Colorado Republicans Lose Redistricting Effort.

More Articles

Ruling Has Texans Puzzling Over Districts, New York Times, July 22, 2006

Rethinking Texas's Redistricting, New York Times, October 22, 2004

States See Growing Campaign to Change Redistricting Laws, New York Times, February 7,2005

Schwarzenegger vs. Gerrymander, New York Times, February 19, 2005

Redistricting Rampage, Washington Post, March 7, 2005

Redistricting Back on Ballot, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2005

For Election Reform, a Heartening Defeat, New York Times, November 11, 2005

An Opening for Democrats, However Slim, New York Times, November 13, 2005

Fixing the Game, New York Times, December 5, 2005

Supreme Court to Review Texas Redistricting, The Associated Press, December 12, 2005

Redistricting Tom DeLay, New York Times, December 14, 2005

Justices Uphold Most Remapping in Texas by G.O.P.New York Times, February 29, 2006

Last updated: July-2006