Is redistricting “fair”?
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Matt Mackowiak tackled the issue in the Statesman, in an opinion piece headlined “Redistricting doesn’t need fixing.” He writes:
With the primary elections in a redistricting year now in the rearview mirror, the predictable lament of losing candidates is to blame the district lines.
If only the process were fair!
Elected officials don’t own the voters. They don’t own their districts. They are allowed to rent them, for two-, four- or six-year periods, contingent upon review by the voters.
Incumbents have all the advantages — official staff, travel budget, favors to offer, ability to raise money, high name recognition.
If you are an incumbent, and you lost, you have no one to blame but yourself….
Of course, that is not a true statement. If you are an incumbent in the minority party, you are at the mercy of the majority. In a one-party state like Texas, the majority has all the advantages in redistricting. It controls the process. If you are an incumbent in the minority party and you lost, all you can do is to blame the majority party, and that will get you nowhere. They drew the map that generated the district lines that defeated the losing candidates. Back to Mr. Mackowiak:
While this harsh reality escapes some, a new debate, which is revisited every 10 years, has emerged. Should we take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature? Should we change the process in place for decades? The U.S. Constitution requires that the state governing body is responsible for reapportionment every Census period. It does not say “judges” or “independent commissions.”
What Mr. Mackowiak misses here is that in almost every redistricting cycle, the issue IS taken out of the hands of the Legislature. The Constitution may not say “judges,” but in every redistricting cycle that I can recall, the constitutionality of the maps has been ultimately decided by the courts, not the Legislature. This year was no exception. The D.C. court determined that the Legislature’s maps were drawn with discriminatory intent. In most redistricting cycles, if not in every redistricting cycle, the final say belongs to the courts, not to the elected officials. If I were in the minority, I would trust the courts to be fair long before I would dream of relying on the hope of receiving fair treatment at the hands of the people’s representatives. Mr. Mackowiak is entitled to believe that the best way to achieve fairness in redistricting is by applying the collective judgment of the Legislature, but past experience records that the courts do a far better job of protecting the rights of the minority. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why we have courts.