The importance of redistricting: the power of future legislative battles is in our hands

My deep gratitude goes to former Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis for his input and encouragement on this article.

When I got involved in legislative matters I tried to escape as fast and as far as I could from everything that regarded redistricting. It looks very complicated, boring, and far from our priorities. I could not be more wrong.

Redistricting is vital in the way it makes chips fall on the table and give chances to win or lose our private property battles the future. It has been an eye opening to me learning about the history and consequences of this process, and how it helped shape our world and the current situation of our Great Country. And the more we know about our history and legislative process, the better we can fight back socialist political correctness and win back common sense and our traditional values. Our Founding Fathers created a system based on local control, and we the voters still hold the keys to it.

During the colonial period both population number and land units were the base for appointment of legislators. Thomas Jefferson criticized the land system unfair to the population, pointing out that in Virginia one House representative spoke for 951 voters while another spoke for more than 22,000 constituents. Therefore the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established that each Congressman would represent 500 free male inhabitants. However, the U.S. Constitution returned, at least in part, to a land base system creating two senators and a member of the House of Representative, regardless of population. Since 1787, the states were responsible in drawing their districts, and some states used the population base methods, and others the land unit one.

In the first half of the Twentieth Century, the system went under attack as mass movements of population moved to industrialized centers and to the cities. In several rural states legislatures froze existing plans to keep the land based system into law.

The 1920 census reported for the first time that most Americans lived in urban centers. For the only time in the US history, Congress refused to approve a new appointment of Congressional seats. The majority of states followed the Congressional example.

In 1946 the first lawsuit, Colegrove v. Green, in Illinois, was filed against the legislature that would not recognize the urbanization of the state. The US Supreme Court dismissed the case with Justice Felix Frankfurter writing for the majority opinion that the Court “ought not to enter this political thicket.” History proved him right.

In 1962, a time for great political change in America, the U.S. Supreme Court took jurisdiction in the case of urban residents in Tennessee against their rural controlled legislature that had refused to change its districting since 1901, and ruled that complaints against unfair proportional distributions of representatives were justifiable. The Court resent the case to the lower federal courts to decide which level or population disparity would be constitutional.

In 1964 for the first time the Supreme Court began the development of population standards. The Court ruled that legislative districts for both houses in a bicameral state legislature must be “based substantially on population” because, as Chief Justice Earl Warren writes for the majority, “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests … and the right to elect legislators in a free and impaired fashion is the absolute bedrock of our system.” (Reynolds v. Sims).

The ruling caused a tide of lawsuits all over the Country. Within two years 26 states had approved new apportionment. Alabama, Oklahoma, and Tennessee were redistricted under court-drafted plans; several other states redistricted under court threats to postpone election or force all representatives to run for reelection at large rather than in their old district. Wisconsin, Delaware, and Michigan were given just few days, 19, 12, and 33 respectively, to redistrict. Other states “voluntarily” changed their representational districts. Although there was a movement in both Congress and states to limit the effect of the court decisions or appointments, by 1966, 46 of the 50 states were in compliance with the courts.

Furthermore, in 1965 Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act to provide equality of opportunity for racial minorities to vote, forbidding racial gerrymandering.

To create equality among the populations, the judicial branch invaded the states’ legislative sovereignty and created chaos. Instead of creating equality it created inequality through new unexpected opportunities for politicians to change at their own advantage, or their party’s advantage, their chances to be elected. The “one man-one vote” gave a chance to political groups to unduly maximize their political advantage. In other word, the courts made the very gerrymandering they were trying to avoid stronger than ever. Gerrymandering is a curious word coined after Massachusetts’s governor Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) signed into law a bill that redistricted his state to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party and gave a district the unusual shape of a salamander. Since then the word is commonly used to describe a deliberate modification of a district into an unusual shape for one’s own advantage.

The first reaction of the courts was therefore to make the population requirement even more stringent, stimulating gerrymandering rather than keeping it into check. Leveling everybody to equality was not the answer then, as it is not today as we are painfully learning.

The Supreme Court changed their directions in 1973 and allowed more flexibility in the “one man-one vote” approach. While in the previous decade it forced states to have a difference of only 400 voters between districts, now it allowed up to 16.4 percent disparity. Its new approach was to permit the states once more to exercise discretion in selecting the factors, other than population, that would be involved in their own legislative redistricting, painfully proving what our Founding Fathers new all along, that states should have local control.

The 1980s saw lawsuits that involved redistricting plans in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment or the Voting Rights Act. The Court established in 1986 three preconditions a minority group must prove in order to establish a violation: The group must be sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district; The minority group must usually vote for the same candidates (must be cohesive); in absence of special circumstances, the block voting by White majority usually defeats a minority’s candidate. If the minority proves those three preconditions, then it is allowed to show that the group has less opportunity to elect its own candidate.

In the 1990s, most of the Country, except North Carolina, adopted the first precondition necessary to prove the violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act as a definition of “less opportunity.” In other words, if the minority population is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district, lawmakers must draw a district for them. It is self-evident the huge impact that a possible comprehensive immigration law will have on our redistricting process and our representation in our state legislatures and in Congress. The 1990s also saw many minority redistricting plans struck down by the federal courts because of racial gerrymandering against Whites, as districts were drawn in odd shapes to accommodate minorities.

After the 2000 census, each state was left to decide for itself what “traditional districting principles” are and how they should be applied. Federal law does not identify them. Some “redistricting principles” have been adopted in states’ constitutions or signed into laws.

The most reasonable conclusion of those two decades of constant litigation is that the central problem of redistricting for the most part remained unsolved and after much federal control, the issue was left back again to the states, where it belonged all along. Meanwhile, those two decades have changed the face of American representation forever.

In most states, redistricting plans proceed through the legislative process as in any other piece of legislation. And here is why we voters play such an important part. The details of the redistricting plan is usually prepared by a committee whose membership is determined by the majority party leaders and the bill must be approved or vetoed by the governor. The elections of November 2010 are exceedingly important and every one of us needs to have our voice heard because the elected officials, the majority party, and the governor will determine the new districting, and upon the new districting will depend future elections. Our chances through the next decade to elect good common sense, patriotic lawmakers that respect private property, small business, and rural America’s needs, will depend on next November.

What can we expect after the 2010 census? According to Zach Brady, founder of ZS Brady & Co in Lubbock, and William A. Olson, professor of Local Government and Constitutional Law and Master Teacher at Baylor Law School, at a Texas Southern Cattle Raisers Assoc. (TSCRA) meeting, redistricting is going to be the “most racially driven issue in legislation and in government today.” The American population since the last census has risen from 282 millions to over 309 millions. In Texas, the population in 2000 was almost 21 million with 44 percent minorities. According to the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas in San Antonio, in 2010, 25 millions call The Lone Star State home, of which 54 percent are minorities. In 1950, 14.5 percent of the population was minorities, comparing to 75 percent minorities and a population of 41 million estimated in 2030. Forty-Eight percent of Texans currently live in six urban counties around HWY 35 and 45.

The speakers reported that only 69 percent of Texans have answered the census, causing Texas to gain three instead of four seats in Congress.

Furthermore, Zach Brady suggests that farmers and ranchers might be considered a community of interest, as previously defined by those lawsuits, maintaining therefore a stronger voice in such urbanized state.

The challenge of this decade is to draw districts that allow the incumbent candidate of a minority to win, or the current White House administration will strike it down, warned Zach Brady. Attorney David Guinn, also present at the TSCRA meeting, stated that Whites will be a majority even when they number fall to the 20 percent of the population. “When it comes to redistricting, minority traditionally means ‘disadvantaged’ population. It does not mean a population of less than 50 percent.”

Texas has a Legislative Redistricting Board, which is the highest profile committee in state government, whose members are the Speaker of the House, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the Comptroller of Public Accounts, and the Land Commissioner. In Texas this committee draws the state redistricting lines if the legislature cannot pass one. So far the legislature has passed the redistricting plan only once since the “one man-one vote” court ruling. The legislature must however pass the Congressional Redistricting lines and the State Board of Education. The governor can force the legislature to a special session, like it happened last time, and eventually, if the legislature fails to pass the plan, it will go to the courts. Redistricting brings party gerrymandering, and also conflicts between lawmakers, who want to preserve their own districts, and therefore their political future, and the interest of their own party. Sometimes, there is camaraderie as well as lawmakers try to help each other out.

The current Texas House has 78 Republicans and 72 Democrats; the Senate is split 19-12 in favor of the GOP.

Each citizen of each state should be aware of the political composition of his or her own state and Board of Education as they are vital to their own private property rights and to shape the future of our states and Country. Although it seems difficult, under no circumstances we should let our own disappointment get hold of our fire to fight back. It is our responsibility to march on and get our Country back and we can do this enthusiastically, one vote at a time, down to the last name and office of the ballot.

To further research districting, or to research it in other states, I suggest that to start by looking at policyarchive.com and aceproject.org.

(“Reapportionment Politics, The History of Redistricting in the 50 States” by Leroy Hardy, Alan Heslop, and Stuart Anderson Editors; www.policyarchive.org; http://www.aceproject.org; Wikipedia.org; Livestock Weekly, July 1, 2010, “Upcoming Redistricting Process Outlined by Attorneys for TSCRA” by Colleen Schreiber; http://www.usconstitution.net)

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About Country Patriot

Rancher, Patriot, private property rights and personal responsibility activist
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