Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Redistricting and Legislative Self-Interest

Drawing districts to favor preferred leaders rather than to represent the will of the people is a subversion of democratic process.  Decisions on redistricting should be made based on the principle of one person means one vote.

Historically gerrymandering in North Carolina was used to protect incumbents from democratic primary challenges.  North Carolina was part of the Solid South, with most officeholders for local and state office belonging to the Democratic Party from the 1870s through the 1960s.  Prof. Everett recounted the story of one such case as follows:

"At the time, the legislature was controlled by the Democrats, who in this plan apparently had gerrymandered the Fourth Congressional District to protect incumbent Representative Harold Cooley, one of North Carolina's most senior members of Congress and the chair of an important committee. Cooley was facing a likely challenge in the Democratic primary from William A. Creech, who had been Chief Counsel for Senator Sam Ervin's Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. Creech had always resided in Johnston County, which for many years had been in the same district with Nash County, where Cooley resided. The redistricting plan removed Johnston County from the Fourth District and thereby created an obvious barrier to Creech's candidacy."

Prof. Everett won the challenge, but lost the case.  The Court declined to enjoin the election under the district that it had declared unconstitutional because there was not enough time before the primaries to allow the change.  Prof. Everett opined that this result was a disappointing result, but a frequent result of challenges to gerrymanders nonetheless.

Prof. Everett proposed that redistricting needed to be done by commissions and not legislatures.  He reasoned that legislators have too much self-interest to to fairly decide on district lines and would sacrifice the good of voters in order to promote their self-interest.

Prof. Everett was right about this, as he was about so many things.  We miss his wisdom.

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