Only a rare politician can resist it and no politician can cure it;—I first laid eyes on it twenty-six years ago when Jack Hawke asked me to drive over to Republican Headquarters for a meeting with a dozen legislators; an hour later standing around a conference room table covered with maps a legislator – enthusiastically waving his arms – explained he’d found a way to draw not two but three Black Congressional Districts.
Heads nodded. Smiles spread across faces. Not because they wanted to elect three Black Congressmen but because packing Black voters into three districts meant electing Republicans in 6 or 8 other districts.
I pointed to the maps.
“You’re drawing Congressional Districts based on racial quotas. I thought we Republicans were against quotas?”
The answer to my question was no. Emphatically. We Republicans were not against racial quotas when it came to drawing Congressional Districts – so I said: “Alright. But aren’t you doing just what you’ve condemned Democrats for doing for years?”
A flicker of unease shot around the table that quickly passed.
That Republican redistricting plan – 26 years ago – never saw the light of day: The Democrats killed it, passed their own equally one sided (in the opposite direction) plan, and twenty years crawled by before Republicans – in 2011 – finally got to draw the Districts they’d been dreaming of: And it worked. Next election the Republican Congressmen were elected and Republicans elected Super Majorities in the State House and Senate.
And the key to the whole plan was drawing Black Districts.
Which, back then, judges and politicians (in both parties) agree was a good thing to do. President Obama’s Justice Department even gave the Republicans’ redistricting plan its seal of approval.
But human nature walks a crooked road and, five years later, the same Federal Courts who’d ruled Black Districts were good rule the Republican Black Districts were bad (because they were too Black) – which meant the Republican mapmakers had to go back to the drawing board.
As it turned out, redrawing Black Districts wasn’t a difficult problem to solve at all: Republican mapmakers came up with a new theory called ‘Partisan Redistricting;’ this time they packed Democrats (instead of Blacks) into a few districts and that worked too: The outcome was the same. There wasn’t a dimes worth of difference between Racial Redistricting and Partisan Redistricting.
So now, up in Washington, the Supreme Court is about to hear a case about ‘Partisan Redistricting.’ That case is from Wisconsin but here’s an example of how ‘Partisan Redistricting’ works in North Carolina: In 2012 Republican candidates for Congress got 49% of the votes but 70% of the Congressmen elected were Republicans. So the Supreme Court Justices are going to try to figure out whether that’s legal or not and, if it’s not, where to draw a plum-line to stop it.
Is there a cure?
That’s like asking if there’s a cure for original sin. There is. But finding the strength to resist temptation will take more than judges or laws.