Opinion: The difficult realities of outlawing partisan gerrymandering

DeKalb County voters go to the polls in Scottdale, May 24, 2016. (AJC Photo / Hyosub Shin)

Gerrymandering is ugly business; there’s no getting around that. The question pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, and in two federal lawsuits filed in Georgia, is whether judges can impose a remedy that, to borrow from James Madison, is not worse than the disease.

As things stand, it doesn’t appear so.

Let’s start with the Georgia cases. Plaintiffs say the state House district map, which the GOP-controlled General Assembly redrew in 2015, violates the Voting Rights Act. While they claim racial discrimination, it’s plain they are motivated by partisanship.

The 2015 bill altered 17 House districts, including a pair in Gwinnett and Henry counties where GOP incumbents narrowly won re-election in 2014. Bill sponsors say they were acting on requests from lawmakers in both parties. Plaintiffs say the bill weakened minority voting strength.

But their exact language, as reported in an AJC news article about the second suit, which was filed Oct. 3, drags partisanship into the mix. The bill, the plaintiffs say, “specifically targets districts where white Republicans have become increasingly vulnerable to challenge by African-American Democratic candidates, moving voters in and out of House districts based on their race so as to shore up the incumbent Republicans’ prospects in future elections.”

To the extent impure motives may have been at play, the operative words are not “white” and “African-American,” but “Republicans” and “Democratic.” It may be a shame “white” and “Republicans” are (in the aggregate) political synonyms in Georgia, as are “African-American” and “Democratic.” But it doesn’t violate the Voting Rights Act.

That brings us to partisanship, and a case out of Wisconsin that coincidentally was argued Oct. 3 should be instructive about the Georgia map’s fate.

At issue in the Wisconsin case is the idea gerrymandering is not only unseemly but quantifiable — and thus subject to the kind of legal test courts use to evaluate legislative behavior.

The Wisconsin plaintiffs claim gerrymandering can be measured by an “efficiency gap,” which purports to tell us if the number of seats a party wins is justified by the total votes cast for the party. The gap is expressed as a percentage: e.g., a party might win 10 percent more seats than its vote count suggests was fair.

The problems with this approach are manifold. The standard the Wisconsin plaintiffs propose, barring maps with efficiency gaps of more than 7 percent, would implicate between one-third and one-half of all state legislative maps drawn in the past 45 years. Unelected judges would be embarking on a massive intervention into a legislative process.

As the defendants point out, even the state’s map from the 2000s would have failed the 7 percent test in three straight elections — and it was drawn not by legislators, but by judges.

Which vote count should be used? Many state legislators go unchallenged, and not always because of gerrymandering; often, the other party knows it has no realistic chance even in a fairly drawn district. Such races skew the vote totals. Should we use statewide results instead? Which ones? In Georgia last year, Republicans won 51 percent in the presidential election, 55 percent in a Senate race, and 67 percent in a Public Service Commission race. Which is their “real” level of support?

Ultimately, the most honest observation about gerrymandering echoes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous remark about obscenity in the 1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio case: “I know it when I see it.” That didn’t suffice as a legal standard for barring obscenity. It’s no more workable for gerrymandering.

Reader Comments 0

120 comments
SGTGrit
SGTGrit

It is indeed unfortunate that A.G. Sessions has recused himself from the Russian meddling probe but none the less Trump needs to direct Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton, Obama and Loretta Lynch for Russian collusion. Sessions,should not have to be removed from investigating James Comey for perjury.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @SGTGrit 

Well if the FBI reports now say that their documentation shows that Comey, developed a memo indicating that Hillary Clinton, would not be indicted over two months before the FBI interviewed key people including her and testified otherwise under oath to congress, what would you call that?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

So the FBI is coming forward now and admitting that James Comey lied under oath when he said that he didn't make the decision to not indict Hillary Clinton well before his announcement.. The FBI has released documentation refuting Comey's claim. In fact there is now evidence that Comey drafted a memo over two months before he announced his decision not to indict and before the FBI even interviewed key people including Hillary Clinton.


It was disheartening to see former Assistant FBI Director Ron Hosko, trying to excuse Comey's lie. We have Mueller supposedly only on a narrow witch hunt trying to find evidence to go after Trump campaign workers, while carrying water for his old buddy lying James Comey.

MarkVV
MarkVV

What we have here is a President, who based his campaign on lies and on bragging and attacking the preceding President, who was a ten times better President and ten times the man Donald Trump can ever hope to be. Thus his only choice is to make false attacks against President Obama, try to destroy everything Obama has accomplished, and use every opportunity to lie about his own qualities and accomplishments. And his supporters like sheep approve every lie and every stupidity that comes out of his mouth or his pen.

breckenridge
breckenridge

In my years as an American voter the the most obscene presidential liars in descending order is as follows: Lyndon Johnson Richard Nixon Bill Clinton Barack Obama

Okay, let's break it down here.


As of last week just 23% of Americans think Donald Trump is an honest person.  So figure that includes all democrats (30% of the electorate) and all independents (40% of the electorate.)  Which means there are also a few republicans that are not in total denial.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge 

The polls can be filed where the sun doesn't shine particularly at this early stage of the Trump, presidency. We all learned about poll inaccuracy just about one year ago. Evidently, you failed to grasp that lesson.

breckenridge
breckenridge

Sigh....another day with the gutless coward embarrassing the country.  That piece of garbage needs to get gone.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Trump’s nastiness reaches new extremes with his false attacks on President Obama regarding contacts with families of fallen military personnel. When will his supporters find that enough is enough from this obscene liar in the White House?

Doomy
Doomy

@MarkVV


Another manufactured faux outrage. Yawn...

Doomy
Doomy

@MarkVV @Doomy


Yawn...


You may continue with another manufactured outrage, sir. It seems to be all you have left in the tank. 


Fire away! 

Starik
Starik

@Doomy @MarkVV  Well, I bet W didn't call his victims' families. The casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq were far too numerous to call. 

Doomy
Doomy

@Starik @Doomy @MarkVV


By that standard Lincoln was an uncaring president presiding over the deaths of a million union soldiers and not writing a million letters to the aggrieved families. Shame on him, too. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@MarkVV 

In my years as an American voter the the most obscene presidential liars in descending order is as follows:

Lyndon Johnson

Richard Nixon

Bill Clinton

Barack Obama


As for Trump if you called him a chronic bloviator who tends to exaggerate, I would agree. However, when you wonder when Trump will lose his supporters I can answer that it'is if and when he abandons his stated agenda.

 

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit @MarkVV  Then you'd agree that Trump belongs on your list as a chronic liar? What if he's lying about his agenda?  

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

So Trump bringing in the death of his chief of staff (John Kelly) son into the mix of this political hot potato. Nothing surprises me about Trump. I only imagine he will continue to bring in the death of Kelly's son into the debate. This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle


What on Earth are you even complaining about now? 


I think Trump could talk good about the baby Jesus and you guys would try and turn it into another faux outrage. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


Seems to me you don't voluntarily bring in the death of your chief of staff son into your answer as to why not calling family of soldiers who die on duty. But Trump gets a pass on alot of things. So everythings kosher.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


Seems to me the context was appropriate and it apparently did not offend his chief of staff. At this point you sound like one of those nitpicking complainers like MarkVV who has degenerated into manufacturing new, imagined complaints about Trump. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle



Haven't heard Kelly comment on this but if he gives Trump the OK then I will shut up about it. But I doubt something as personal as losing a son would be a topic I want to be talked about in public setting.


Neverthesless, I will agree with you that can't have everything be an outrage. Then so nothing will be an outrage. I do want to point out as it has been seen before, when Trump defends himself. Nothing is off limits.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


He's quite thin skinned. But I think it's been made worse by the sheer amount of imagined and faux complaints that people have against him. I mean geez. Is there anything he says or does that some folks won't complain about? 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


You could ask the same question about Obama. But Trump was ask this simple question: "why he had not spoken about the four soldiers killed in a Niger ambush." And he mentions how previous presidents didn't call and questions their policy on this. And later brings in Obama.


Trump really does not know how to respond in a dignify manner. He jumps straight into gutter politics.



Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


"Trump really does not know how to respond in a dignify manner. He jumps straight into gutter politics."


Trump's a street fighter. Obama? Well, he's more of the glib, smooth talking, full of shyte perfessional politicians that people are sick and tired of. 


For all of Obama's smooth talk and all of Trump's gutter talk I just look past both and look at actions. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


I think you enjoy Trump's gutter talk because it appeals to you and makes him more of a common man. This "smooth talk" is a backlash against intellectualism and elite institutions. Trump style is no different than the same "street fighter" populism you see in Philippines president Duterte.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


Depends on what you mean by "gutter talk". My perception of your characterization is that you simply don't like for him to be so plainspoken and blunt- sorta like the common man. And yeah. I'm okay with blunt talk. And I'm okay with him not being a polished or eloquent speaker. Again. I'm more interested in his policies and actions. 


And yeah. I think there is a backlash against intellectuals and intellectualism. These are the same groups giving us all the political correctness nonsense. The same people wussifying college kids with trigger warnings, safe spaces, and other such dalliances of silliness. 


You must remember as a student of history that most of the horrors of history came from the fanciful ideas of the intellectual class. The intellectual class had fashionable ideas that  consisted of the eugenics movement, fascism, communism, and on and on. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

Debunking for the foolish and/or stupid:

 In 2010, Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, was one of nine federal agency heads to sign off on Russia’s purchase of a controlling stake in Uranium One, an international mining company headquartered in Canada with operations in several U.S. states. It was part of a regular process for approving international deals involving strategic assets, such as uranium, that could have implications for national security. Uranium One’s U.S. mines produced about 11 percent of the country’s total uranium production in 2014.

But even with its control of Uranium One, Russia cannot export the material from the United States. Russia was likely more interested in Uranium One’s assets in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium producer.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/mar/28/fact-checking-donald-trumps-tweets-about-hillary-c/

Doomy
Doomy

@breckenridge


"In his tweets, Trump mixed legitimate allegations that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf — for which there is significant supporting evidence"- Politifact


"Significant supporting evidence" that the Russians meddled in the election on Trump's behalf? LOL! And of course Politifact declined to detail all of this, ahem, "significant supporting evidence". 


You call yourself a conservative and you believe garbage from a left wing outfit with proven bias like Politifact? Politifact is nothing more than the same ole proggy propaganda, from a leftist newspaper, masquerading as an independent fact checker. Their bias is well documented. They are a joke.

Starik
Starik

@Doomy @breckenridge  It's perfectly obvious that the Russians meddled. Effectively. It's been reported by reputable news sources in hundreds of news articles. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Doomy @breckenridge 

Breckenridge is about as much a conservative as Rush Limbaugh is a flaming liberal. The fact is breckenridge supports every far-left cause out there and the progs on here always like his comments and he always supports there's.

..Mariah
..Mariah

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breckenridge
breckenridge

And so Trump is claiming credit for the ISIS loss in Syria. How laughable.  How incredibly childish.


Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president and needs to be removed from office.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge 

Sorry but there needs to be justification. Your opinion and that of some congressional Democrats won't count.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

"""http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/10/17/report-russians-used-bribes-sought-to-pad-clinton-charity-amid-obama-era-push-to-expand-us-nuclear-footprint.html"

Finally the noose is tightening around the Clintons and the Obama administration regarding the uranium deal and Russian meddling involvement that Obama and his justice department were aware of back in 09. Other revelations are coming into focus about Bill Clinton and former A.G. Loretta Lynch's infamous tarmac meeting one day before Comey announced Hillary Clinton would not be indicted. Also, it has been discovered that Comey wrote an email indicating that Clinton would not be indicted one month before Clinton was interviewed under oath. Trump, needs to order his Deputy A.G. to tell Mueller that his little search and destroy mission on the Trump campaign committee needs to focus the Russian meddling investigation to now include the Clinton's, Obama and the former DOJ. If he declines Mueller should be fired and a new special council appointed to focus the Russian meddling investigation on every area of potential collusion.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit 

The uranium deal is a bull crap story, an old bull crap story, that has been totally debunked.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@SGTGrit Please tell us what laws were broken by the "Bill Clinton and former A.G. Loretta Lynch's infamous tarmac meeting one day before Comey announced Hillary Clinton would not be indicted."

Doomy
Doomy

@MarkVV @SGTGrit


Kinda like the "looking into" on the bogus Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. 


The good thing about the bogus Trump investigation is that they seem to actually be uncovering Russian influence peddling with the Clintons. Gotta love it. 


So how much money did the Clinton foundation receive from Russian interests after the uranium deal went through???

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Doomy @MarkVV @SGTGrit 

Time for Mueller to dump or get off the pot. To the possible dismay of Democrats the dump pots may end up being on the doorsteps of the Clintons, Obama and Loretta Lynch.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @Doomy @MarkVV


Everyone trying to dissect Mueller investigation. Which way it will go.  But for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Doomy
Doomy

@SGTGrit @Doomy @MarkVV


I think Mueller knew all along that the whole Russian collusion story was bogus to begin with. The basis for the whole thing was the absurd fake dossier with Russian call girls peeing on Trump. 


Mueller's effort is to go on a fishing expedition to get something that has nothing to do with Russian collusion whatsoever. But it is funny finding stuff on the Clinton's while doing this. 

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit @Doomy @MarkVV


I got a feeling the bell is gonna be tolling for the Clintons. As for Trump if they can't find an shred of evidence after a year of looking than that investigation is turning out to be as bogus as we all knew it was when they launched it. 

Caius
Caius

I would remind everyone:

"The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” "


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Crissy C. Yancey

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