Friday, September 08, 2017 1:00 am
Border wars: Indiana attorney general on wrong side of Supreme Court gerrymandering case
Amicus briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging gerrymandering draw a sharp distinction between those who see the practice as a threat to democracy and those who support the use of voting records in redistricting.
Arguing the practice is unconstitutional: Former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, Sen. John McCain, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 15 leading historians, attorneys general of 17 states and 65 current and former state lawmakers.
Arguing in favor of gerrymandering: The Republican National Committee and attorneys general of 15 states, including Indiana Attorney General Curtis T. Hill.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Gill v. Whitford, on Oct. 3. The case challenges political maps in Wisconsin that gave Republicans an overwhelming advantage in state assembly districts.
“Wisconsin's gerrymander was one of the most aggressive of the decade, locking in a large and implausiblystable majority for Republicans in what is otherwise a battleground state,” Thomas Wolf, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center forJustice, wrote when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. “It's a symptom of politics going haywire and something that we increasingly see when one party has sole control of the redistricting process.”
Prominent Republican politicians warned of dire consequences in a brief filed Tuesday.
“(If) the Supreme Court does not stop partisan gerrymanders, partisan politicians will be emboldened to enact ever more egregious gerrymanders. ... That result would be devastating for our democracy,” wrote Lugar, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and 11 other GOP officeholders.
A bipartisan brief entered byMcCain, a Republican, and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island offered a succinct and chilling assessment: “Partisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process.”
For the other side, Hill and the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia, defend partisan redistricting.
“There is nothing invidious or irrational, under the Equal Protection Clause, about legislatures having partisan purposes when reapportioning legislative seats,” according to their brief.
“Common Cause Indiana is disappointed that Attorney General Curtis Hill has decided to take a stand in support of partisan gerrymandering,” wrote Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana in an email.
“Drawing districts to advantage individuals and partisan interests significantly undermines the democratic process and takes power away from voters. No Hoosier serving in elected office should endorse a system thatallows politicians to choose theirvoters but with his involvement in this amicus, AG Hill is doing just that. Real statesmen like former Senator Richard Lugar rise above partisan politics and do what is right for all voters – this is a lesson that AG Hill has apparently not yet learned.”
The Wisconsin case introduced the efficiency gap, a calculation to determine the “wasted votes” resulting from packing minority-party votes in a district or dividing them up among several districts. Gaps in Wisconsin, according to the formula, were 13.3 percent in 2012 and 9.6 percent in 2014. Plaintiffs argued gaps of more than 7 percent violated the Constitution.
A Stanford University report in 2015 identified Indiana among12 states in which 2012 and 2014 elections revealed efficiency gaps of more than 10 percent.
Legislative leaders in Indiana – and now Attorney General Hill – are steadfast in their defense of partisan redistricting, a practice that discourages competition, pushes moderates to political extremes and concentrates power in the hands of a few.
But the voices of respected statesmen on both sides of the political aisle should weigh heavily in the important decision before the Supreme Court.