Election 2020

House Dem on Gerrymandering: GOP, Dems Both Guilty of Harmful District Drawing

Shirley Connuck, right, of Falls Church, Va., holds up a sign representing a district in Texas as the Supreme Court hears a case on possible partisan gerrymandering by state legislatures on Oct. 3, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Both Republicans and Democrats have inappropriately engaged in partisan gerrymandering, a practice that favors short-term political gain and corrodes democracy in the long run, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said in a recent interview with PJM.

“We tend to think about our narrow interests in the short term and not about what it really takes to sustain our society, to sustain our democracy,” Kildee said. “If we only think about short-term interests, sometimes we do things that are really not healthy for us in the long term, as individuals and as a society. This is a really good example.”

Within the current political landscape, he said that Democrats are “at the end of the fire hose” because there are significantly more Republican-controlled state legislatures. At the same time, he added, it’s impossible to ignore past examples of Democrats manipulating districts. It would be a mistake, he said, if Democrats swing the momentum back in their favor, only to repeat the same offenses.

Gerrymandering is a practice that enables political advantage through voter district manipulation by allowing state legislatures to slice voting lines in ways that clearly favor one party. Kildee and a bipartisan group of 35 other sitting and former members of Congress have filed an amicus brief arguing for the Supreme Court to curtail partisan gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court this month heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case stemming from the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin’s decision to strike the state’s redistricting map down as unconstitutional.

The bipartisan group includes an entire spectrum of congressional lawmakers, from House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). The group is split nearly evenly, with 17 Republicans signing on.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) joined together in a separate effort earlier this month in filing a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against gerrymandering. The senators said in a joint statement on Oct. 3 that the practice leaves American voters feeling powerless and that it encourages an electoral system favoring special interests.

“Partisan gerrymandering distorts statewide votes, dilutes the effect of votes based on political affiliation, and leads to the election of congressional and state legislative delegations that do not represent the will of the voters,” they wrote. “Districts become safe because they are drawn to be politically uniform, and in such districts, an incumbent’s biggest threat is often a primary challenge from a more extreme member of his or her own party.”

Kildee echoed those sentiments during a discussion with PJM, and said that it’s not just an issue causing representation distortion, but an issue that draws a greater distinction between ideologies and intensifies congressional gridlock.

The Michigan lawmaker argued for the court to make it clear that drawing district lines is a “sacred part” of democratic institutions, and he recommended state legislators eliminate participation from candidates and candidate representatives in the redistricting process. He noted that in southeastern Michigan a person can drive through three different districts when traveling from one end of the district to the other, and he cited absurd mapping in other states, sometimes with districts that snake across the region.

“It almost becomes laughable if it weren’t so serious,” Kildee said. “I’m sure you’ve looked at these maps. Some of them it’s like — what were they drinking when they drew this map.”

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in June. Court watchers have been eyeing Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is expected to be the swing vote.