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Posted by on Mar 31, 2015

Supreme Court asks Virginia panel to reexamine redistricting decision

The Washington Post

By Jenna Portnoy and Robert Barnes

March 30 at 5:00 PM
The Supreme Court on Monday told a federal judicial panel in Virginia to take another look at its decision that lawmakers improperly packed minority voters into one congressional district.

The court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia without comment, following its decision last week in a similar case from Alabama.

In the Alabama case, the court ruled 5 to 4 that lower court judges should look more closely at whether lawmakers made race the predominate factor in drawing new district lines after the 2010 census.

[Supreme Court hands win to opponents of Alabama redistricting plan]

In Virginia, a three-judge federal district court panel ruled in October that the Virginia General Assembly must draw new congressional maps, because the current plan concentrates African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere.

Both the Virginia and Alabama cases hinge on when it’s legal to use race to draw district boundaries.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Virginia case, along with several independent experts, said it is unlikely that the federal court in Virginia will make a different ruling this time around.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to change,” said Marc Elias, who represented two voters from the district where the redistricting in question took place.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who runs a blog about redistricting, said nothing in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Alabama case gives the Virginia court any reason to alter its original ruling.

“Alabama strengthened the trial courts’ decision against Virginia,” he said. “Essentially the accusations against Virginia that the trial court found to be true are really, really, really close to the accusations against Alabama.”

But Michael A. Carvin, who is representing former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Virginia’s Republican congressional delegation in their appeal of the lower court’s decision, drew the opposite conclusion. “We’ve always been confident in our defense and there’s no reason to think differently now,” Carvin said.

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2015

Nonpartisan redistricting is still right thing to do

By Jon Hardister
Being a good legislator requires honesty, hard work and humility. It also involves being consistent in the quest to establish a better form of government. That is why I am a consistent advocate for redistricting reform in North Carolina.

Every 10 years, after the decennial census, the state legislature is tasked with the responsibility of redrawing N.C. House, N.C. Senate and congressional districts. Under the present system, the political party in power has the ability to draw these districts to its political advantage. This process is commonly referred to as “gerrymandering.”
Prior to 2010, when Democrats held the majority in the state legislature, I advocated for redistricting reform. I wrote a paper about it when I was in college, and I wrote letters to members of the state legislature pleading with them to reform our redistricting process. Redistricting reform was also part of my campaign platform when I first ran for the N.C. House in 2010.
Democrats had plenty of chances to enact redistricting reform when they were in the majority in North Carolina. Redistricting reform bills were filed in the state legislature year after year when Democrats were in power, but none of these bills passed. It was the right thing to do, but it never happened.
Now we have a Republican majority in the state legislature, and redistricting reform is still the right thing to do. It would be inconsistent for me to suddenly abandon my position on this issue now that my political party is in power. This was the right thing to do when Democrats were in power, and it is still the right thing to do today.
HB 92 — Nonpartisan Redistricting Process — was filed in the N.C. House on Feb. 16 of this year. I am honored to be a primary sponsor of this bill along with Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake), Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake). There are 63 co-sponsors of the bill, which indicates there is strong bipartisan support for this effort.
This bill would require the General Assembly’s legislative services office to draw the legislative districts. There would be oversight provided by a bipartisan commission that consists of private citizens. When the districts are completed, the legislature would be required to approve them. If the legislature were to reject the plan three times, then the legislature would be allowed to draw the districts. It is necessary to allow the legislature to grant final approval of the plan in order to meet constitutional requirements.
It is true that we cannot completely eliminate the influence of politics when it comes to redistricting reform. That is because the process would still involve people, and people have personal opinions. But we can reduce the influence of politics in the redistricting process, and that is exactly what this bill would do.
Republicans need not worry about giving up the power of drawing legislative districts. If we continue to pass sound legislation and provide effective leadership, then we will continue to be elected. I would also remind my fellow Republicans that we may not be in the legislative majority during future redistricting efforts. If this were the case, then we would benefit (and our citizens would benefit) from having a nonpartisan redistricting process in place.
It is important that we work to make government better for all of our citizens. This should be a consistent goal of anyone who has the privilege of serving in public office. As a state legislator, I know that this is the right thing to do on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina.
Jon Hardister is a second-term Republican representative from House District 59. He lives in Greensboro.

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2015

Arizona voters want an independent commission to handle redistricting. Irate state legislators sued.

From the Wall Street Journal

By

Bill Mundell And Charles Munger Jr.

 

 

More than 200 years ago, at the Massachusetts convention to debate ratifying the U.S. Constitution, state representative Theophilus Parsons emphasized the need for a remedy if “a state legislature” were to “make an unequal and partial division of the state into districts for the election of representatives.” But although the Framers responded by providing for federal regulation of elections in the new Constitution, the problem of gerrymandering persists.

 

Courts and legislatures struggled to address gerrymandering for decades, but it was not until 2011 that one state, Arizona, successfully used a ballot initiative to create an independent commission to draw district lines for Congress. Now the Arizona state legislature is suing to invalidate the lines drawn that year, arguing that the U.S. Constitution requires that the state legislature draw those lines. On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in this lawsuit.

 

We in California have a strong interest in this court case. That’s because California used the ballot to go even further than Arizona and barred the legislature from directly selecting the members of the commission. We, together with three former governors of California and the Chamber of Commerce, filed an amicus brief that among other things demonstrates that the dangers inherent in this lawsuit extend well beyond Arizona and California.

 

A broad decision from the high court eliminating any regulation of the “manner” of federal elections not made by state legislators could not only invalidate fair redistricting in other states that use independent commissions but also threaten important existing reforms that were first accomplished by ballot measure, such as permanent voter registration and all-mail balloting.

 

The principal issue before the court is: What does the Elections Clause of the Constitution mean? It says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations . . .”

 

The Arizona legislature argues that “Legislature” may only mean the specific group of elected members sitting in the state capitol. But the dictionary known to the Framers, by Dr. Samuel Johnson, defined legislature as “the power that makes laws.” So did Noah Webster, when he wrote his 1806 dictionary.

 

For the past century, some states have used the initiative and referendum as “the power that makes laws” on a broad range of subjects. In spite of the fact that state legislatures have historically misused their power to redistrict, the Arizona legislature insists that the citizens of Arizona should not be allowed to use the initiative to create a commission to draw new lines.

 

We will never be certain of how the Framers would have defined “Legislature,” because the initiative was unknown in 1787. But we do know their views on federalism and fair elections.

 

The authors of the Federalist Papers contemplated that Congress would serve as a backstop in case the state legislatures abused their power to regulate elections to cripple the nascent federal legislature. Hence that second line in the Elections Clause, giving Congress the power to pass its own laws that would override state rules. Had Congress been displeased with the use of new alternative political structures to carry out redistricting, it could have mandated that redistricting be done solely by the legislators.

 

But Congress never did so. In fact, a later Congress acted to further clarify the vision of the Framers by considering the changed landscape and explicitly giving the states freedom to act in accordance with their own laws. In 1911 Congress changed the relevant law, which had referred to redistricting by “the legislature of such State” to provide that the redistricting should be done by a state “in the manner provided by the laws thereof.”

 

This was done after a floor discussion of the then-new phenomenon of the statewide initiative, first adopted in 1898 in South Dakota, and some mention of nonpartisan commissions. It would now be up to the states to choose the means to accomplish their duties.

 

And yet today we have the remarkable irony of state legislators arguing that the clause intended to give Congress the power to prevent gerrymandering instead forbids a state from preventing it.

 

The commissions recently used in California and Arizona may have their flaws. But those could be fixed before meeting again in six years time. Already, they have proven to be far more open, transparent and responsive to diverse groups than the alternative—legislators meeting in a backroom and producing new maps. And like it or not, commissions produced many more competitive seats in 2012 and 2014 than had been seen in the past.

There should never again be a situation like that in California in the decade of the 2000s where, in a state with 53 House seats, there was a change of party exactly once in 265 House races. “We the people” deserve better.

 

Mr. Mundell is the former chairman of Californians for Fair Redistricting and was the executive producer of the 2010 feature documentary “Gerrymandering.” Mr. Munger is the proponent of California Proposition 20, which put the drawing of California’s 53 congressional districts into the hands of an independent commission.

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2014

John Hood says gerrymandering played a role in election results

John Hood says gerrymandering played a role in election results

John Hood, Chairman of the conservative think tank, The John Locke Foundation, believes that we need an impartial, fair and nonpartisan process for redistricting in North Carolina.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his recent columns in the Winston-Salem Journal-

Finally, Democrats say they lost because of gerrymandering. This explanation, at least, has some truth to it, although it has no bearing on the Tillis-Hagan race. Favorable districts have clearly boosted the number of Republican victories for Congress and state legislature. Still, GOP candidates got 56 percent of the statewide vote for U.S. House and 54 percent for the General Assembly. They’d have won most of the seats in 2014, anyway. Again, keep in mind that the Republicans won the legislature in 2010 despite running in pro-Democratic districts. I’m all for redistricting reform, but Democrats need not be so fatalistic. If they had recruited stronger candidates in more districts and spent their money on a more effective message, they’d have done better.

Read the full article HERE ->

 

 

 

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Posted by on Sep 16, 2014

WFDD: Redistricting Means Victory All But Assured For Many Candidates

WFDD: Redistricting Means Victory All But Assured For Many Candidates

WFDD’s Paul Garber spoke with Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan group North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. She says gerrymandering has to stop because it hurts democracy.

“In the long run, the citizens in the district are the losers,” says Pinsky. “It’s even more dangerous now because computers let us draw maps in the most minute of details. With a computer I can figure out which two houses I need to split a district between because I have voting patterns, voting records and voting registration.”

Listen to the full interview HERE.

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Posted by on Sep 8, 2014

Former Members of US House and Senate agree ending gerrymandering can help make our government work

Former Members of US House and Senate agree ending gerrymandering can help make our government work

In its report, the bipartisan Commission on Political Reform makes 65 recommendations designed to solve problems afflicting the country’s political process. Reporter Tim Funk of The Charlotte Observer compiled a few that are getting the most attention. Including:

Problem: Congress spends too little time legislating.

Solution: The House and Senate should schedule synchronized, five-day workweeks in Washington, with three weeks in session followed by a one-week recess.

Problem: The White House and Congress don’t talk to each other enough.

Solution: The president should hold monthly meetings with congressional leaders. Those leaders should invite the president to attend joint caucuses twice a year.

Read the full list on the right-hand side of this article: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/09/06/5154752/former-washington-insiders-think.html#.VC9JAmSwJ58

Read the commission’s report here –> bipartisanpolicy.org/projects/commission-political-reform.

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