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The Endangered Gerrymander

the Supreme Court takes a tentative step towards rationality in voting districts

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 05, 1995.

The Supreme Court has finally made gerrymandering illegal. Well, sort of. It has made gerrymandering for minority racial benefit illegal, and thereby scared the BeGeorge out of Southern black Congressmen who essentially had districts created for them that resemble Rorschach ink blots. It is true that these districts cross regional boundaries and do nothing except assume that all black people are alike and only want a black representative. This is questionable, of course, but the fact remains that these acts allowed significant black representation for the first time.

Nonetheless, because all cowardly politicians are now extolling the virtues of the states over the federal government, it might be time to talk about how congressional districts are made and I have a suggestion. A state looks at its census and calculates the number of congressmen it is allowed. The state is then divided into districts with the following caveat: at least twenty-five percent of a district’s border has to be in a straight line. Right away, the hand of god returns and overrules construct for political advantage. In fact, once the computers even figured out the shapes, they probably could never change much.

Because of the stricture, communities - both black and white - would be destroyed as voting blocks, and the two congressmen sharing a large, say Italian neighborhood in the Bronx might have to do some horse-trading to get mutually beneficial legislation done that would not allow either to pander to a single ethnic group. Confronted with a 45% black population, many white politicians might have to learn to represent all their constituents. Better, there could be no excessive gerrymandering ever, because that straight line almost mathematically - especially in the unsquare Eastern and Southern states, demands they be flush together. That limits malfeasance in drawing the districts, and limits the games state legislatures can play.

I offer this because there are movements afoot to turn the national parks over to the states. This bespeaks blindness to the history of state responsibility to the commonweal, which is none. State, more easily able to hide lobbying powers, are not qualified to hold wealth in trust for future generations. They aren’t even qualified to draw up fair districts without guidelines.