Commentary Magazine


Topic: gerrymandering

Liberal Gerrymander Myth Will Be Exposed

In yet another instance of the U.S. Supreme Court twisting the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution, a 5-4 majority ruled that states could bypass their legislatures to create commissions to determine Congressional districts. The U.S. Constitution states specifically, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” but, in writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that “legislature” can mean a referendum. That’s absurd, but after a week in which “by the states” can be translated as “by the federal government” (Chief Justice Roberts on ObamaCare) and an amorphous concept not mentioned in the Constitution such as “dignity” can be used as justification for overturning state laws (Justice Kennedy on gay marriage), what’s one more legal fiction if it gets a liberal majority what it wants? As with those other two cases, this has excited a lot of liberals who believe, as Paul Blest writes in The New Republic, that this decision can lead to a political earthquake that could eventually give the Democrats back control of the House of Representatives. But unlike the other decisions that will help transform the world to conform to liberal preferences, this one is bound to disappoint the left. The reason why Republicans seem to have acquired a lock on the House has less to do with the gerrymander myth that claims the GOP wins by cheating than it does to with population patterns and the Voting Rights Act.

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In yet another instance of the U.S. Supreme Court twisting the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution, a 5-4 majority ruled that states could bypass their legislatures to create commissions to determine Congressional districts. The U.S. Constitution states specifically, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” but, in writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that “legislature” can mean a referendum. That’s absurd, but after a week in which “by the states” can be translated as “by the federal government” (Chief Justice Roberts on ObamaCare) and an amorphous concept not mentioned in the Constitution such as “dignity” can be used as justification for overturning state laws (Justice Kennedy on gay marriage), what’s one more legal fiction if it gets a liberal majority what it wants? As with those other two cases, this has excited a lot of liberals who believe, as Paul Blest writes in The New Republic, that this decision can lead to a political earthquake that could eventually give the Democrats back control of the House of Representatives. But unlike the other decisions that will help transform the world to conform to liberal preferences, this one is bound to disappoint the left. The reason why Republicans seem to have acquired a lock on the House has less to do with the gerrymander myth that claims the GOP wins by cheating than it does to with population patterns and the Voting Rights Act.

Gerrymandering is almost as old as the republic, but it has always had a bad reputation. Both Democrats and Republicans have carved up states in bizarre patterns in order to maximize political advantage for one party or the other. But in recent years, as the GOP won midterm landslides that gained them control of the majority of state houses around the country, Republicans have had the opportunity to do more gerrymandering than Democrats.

Blest’s piece gives as good a summary of the gerrymander myth as can be found. In short, he blames the Republican victory in 2010 as enabling them to steal seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio by coming up with districts with “nonsensical formations.”

The effects of that redistricting were noticeable in 2012 when, despite easily holding the White House, adding to their Senate majority, and winning the popular vote in the House by over 1 million votes, Democrats only won back eight congressional districts. In Ohio, two longtime progressive members of Congress, Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, were drawn into the same district, the boundaries of which are objectively ridiculous. After the 2012 election in Michigan, where Obama won by nearly ten points, Republicans held nine seats to just five for Democrats. And in Pennsylvania, the GOP picked up two seats despite Obama’s winning the state by over 300,000 votes and Senator Bob Casey’s winning re-election by an even wider margin. This process wasn’t limited to Republicans, either—they just had more opportunities to do it.

But while the GOP took advantage of their chance to redraw districts where they could, the sea change in House elections dates back more than two decades to the early 1990s when redistricting helped play a role in ending an almost unbroken 60-year streak (1946-48 and 1952-54 being the only brief exceptions) when Democrats controlled the House. Since then, the House has been generally trending to the Republicans, and they’ve run things other than Nancy Pelosi’s four-year reign from 2006-2010. But what happened in 1992 wasn’t the result of a vast GOP gerrymander. It was the result of court decisions interpreting the Voting Rights Act that demanded that states create minority-majority districts that would vastly expand the number of African-American and Hispanic members of the House. That effort succeeded brilliantly but though almost all of these members were Democrats, this triumph came at the expense of their party.

In the past, when Democrats had the chance to draw districts, they’d take advantage of the situation by trying to include areas with a high minority population in competitive districts. Since blacks were — and still are — an essential part of the base of the Democratic party, once they were concentrated into minority-majority districts, that left swing districts overwhelmingly white and as a consequence, far more likely to be won by Republicans. Moreover, the minority districts were far more “nonsensical” than anything any Republican or even Elbridge Gerry (after whom the practice is named) could have even dreamed of as they stretch across states and cross normal country and even geographic boundaries in order to corral as many minorities as possible into one district.

As Nate Cohn notes in the New York Times Upshot blogs, the Democrats’ dominance in urban districts with mostly minority voters inflates their national vote total in Congressional elections. But it does them little good to win inner city districts in cities by 8-1 margins while losing most of the competitive seats by close margins. What Cohn calls a “wasted vote problem” means that Democrats can win states like Pennsylvania decisively while losing the majority of Congressional seats.

The court, to the approval of liberal strongholds like the New York Times editorial page, believes good government pieties about non-partisanship will always favor the Democrats. But the liberal faith that supposedly non-partisan commissions such as the one created in Arizona will solve their problems is misplaced. Even non-partisan districts are always going to favor Republicans in states with minority and urban populations. Unless those commissions are prepared to break up minority districts and cost black and Hispanic politicians their jobs — something that is not only politically impossible but would be considered illegal by the courts — the fundamental GOP advantage will remain.

Moreover, as Cohn points out, instead of looking to the courts to win them victories they can’t achieve on their own, Democrats might do better to forget about commissions and concentrate on winning back state houses before the next census sets off the next round of redistricting. If the GOP wins the presidency in 2016, that might set up 2018 as the moment when Democrats might take advantage of the midterm pattern that gives the party out of power the edge. Of course, that means no President Hillary, so Democrats don’t even want to think about it.

But the most important lesson to be learned from this subject is that while redrawing districts can give political parties help, such devices are no substitute for popular support. If Democrats want to win back the House, they’ll have to do it at the ballot box winning swing districts and not by judicial fiat.

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The Truth About Race, Gerrymandering and the Democrats

Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.

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Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.

As even the Post article noted, the current Democratic court challenges to various districts around the country don’t amount to enough seats to tip the House in their direction even if they were all successful. But the goal is to set in place legal standards that would forbid states from lumping a large percentage of their African-American voters in to a few districts, leaving the rest dominated by white voters.

There’s no question that this practice has been a godsend for Republicans and a disaster for the Democrats. African-Americans are a huge part of the Democrats’ base throughout the country. In the south, they have become virtually their sole bulwark of support. Thus, grouping them together in a few districts has the effect of making the Democrats non-competitive everywhere else.

But what was left out of the Post article is the fact that this idea wasn’t invented in a backroom by some evil GOP genius bent on marginalizing blacks and empowering conservatives. Instead, it was more or less invented by liberal judges who interpreted the Voting Rights Act as mandating not just the right of everyone to vote but the creation of an electoral environment in which minorities could be set up to succeed.

The creation of a raft of these majority-minority districts took place after the 1990 census and the result was the beginning of the end of a 60-year-period of Democratic dominance in the House that stretched from the Great Depression to the Clinton presidency. It was accomplished by creating bizarre districts that ignored traditional boundaries as well as geography. These districts gave new meaning to the term gerrymandering but they accomplished exactly what the courts intended for them to do. The numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics in the House grew exponentially. It was only after this process began that some on both the left and the right realized that the fallout from the new districts was the end of many competitive districts as well as the completion of a long period of decline for the Democrats in the south.

It’s understandable if Democrats now want to rethink this situation since it more or less dooms them to permanent minority status in the House. But if they want to change it, they need to be careful of the consequences.

For the past few years, liberals have been waxing lyrical about the perfidy of Republican gerrymandering of districts. The fact that in states where Democrats have control of the legislature and the governor’s seat they do the same thing hasn’t deterred them from claiming that this is a sin unique to the GOP. But hypocrisy aside, it appears that a lot of them seem to have not thought through what would happen if this type of gerrymandering were eliminated.

Ending majority-minority district will help the Democrats across the board. But it will set them up for an epic confrontation with their most loyal voters and that group’s political leaders. There is simply no way that the Congressional Black Caucus will ever consent to their numbers being decimated merely to help the Democratic Party.

Don’t bet on African Americans or Hispanics sitting back and merely letting their party eliminate so many of their seats. If they have to, they will make alliances with Republicans in the legislatures to ensure that their districts survive. The bottom line is that when it comes to the majority-minority districts that are killing the Democrats, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Whether by the Republicans committing some form of political suicide or by a sea change in the political environment, the Democrats could eventually win back the House. But they will not do on the backs of blacks or by eliminating their racial redistricting problem.

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Gerrymandering: an American Perversion of Democracy

Everyone is waiting for Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument regarding King v. Burwell and whether the phrase in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the states,” means what it plainly says. It’s the most important case on the Court’s docket this term because if the Court rules against the administration, ObamaCare will probably become financially untenable and so crash and burn, quite possibly taking the Obama presidency with it
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Everyone is waiting for Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument regarding King v. Burwell and whether the phrase in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the states,” means what it plainly says. It’s the most important case on the Court’s docket this term because if the Court rules against the administration, ObamaCare will probably become financially untenable and so crash and burn, quite possibly taking the Obama presidency with it
But there is an important case being argued tomorrow morning, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, that could adversely impact the movement to eliminate gerrymandering from American politics. It should be paid attention to.

Gerrymandering is named after Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who came up with the idea (although his name is pronounced with a hard G and the eponymous—and nefarious—practice he invented is pronounced with a soft one). It involves the setting of legislative district lines—whether state or federal—so as to give one party or the other partisan advantage. As someone described it, democracy is where the voters choose their representatives. Gerrymandering is where the representatives choose their voters. It is a wholly American perversion of democracy, unknown elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

The Court has always declined to flatly outlaw gerrymandering, although many people (myself included) think that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. After all, if you’re a Democrat living in a district carefully designed to return a Republican legislator, you are effectively disenfranchised. Your vote is worthless. That’s why Baker v. Carr (1962) rewrote the Court’s doctrine on “political questions” in order to require “one man, one vote.”

In 2002, Arizona voters in a public referendum took away the hopelessly self-interested state legislature’s power to draw district lines and established an independent commission to do it instead. The Arizona legislature sued, claiming that because the Constitution (Article I, Section 4) says that “The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; . . .” only the state legislature has the right to set district lines. A special three-judge district court ruled (2-1) in the commission’s favor and the legislature appealed to the Supreme Court.

There is a standing issue, but if the state legislature survives that and the Court gets to the merits, George Will thinks the Court should give the state of Arizona a lesson in remedial reading. He accepts as self-evident the legislature’s argument that the “Manner of holding elections” includes setting district lines. To me, it means nothing more than deciding how the vote should be taken: paper ballots, machines, online voting, early voting, a raising of hands, etc.

Other states, including California, have been moving in this direction, especially as computers have made it possible to draw district lines with exquisite precision, even house by house, and so make more and more districts uncompetitive.

This also makes American politics more extreme. One of the reasons the center of American politics has largely emptied out in recent decades (although not the only one) is that as general elections have become less and less determinative, primaries have become more so. In primaries, the left in Democratic races and the right in Republican ones exert much more influence, pulling candidates one way or another. Indeed the word primary has recently become a verb, as in “If Congressman Snoot doesn’t vote this way on the widget bill, he’ll probably be primaried.”

Gerrymandering does not belong in the world’s oldest democracy.

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Gerrymandering Myths and the Midterms

Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

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Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

Last year, President Obama sat down for an “interview” with his campaign donor, New Republic owner Chris Hughes. During the course of their conversation, the president complained that gerrymandering was behind the political polarization of Congress. I pointed out that, according to political scientist John Sides, who had run the numbers, this was just not true.

But the more basic complaint is less about how Republicans vote when they get to Congress and more about how they get there in the first place. Some, such as the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, still argue, against reality, that Republicans owe their House majority to “extreme gerrymandering,” in Krugman’s words. (Presumably “extreme gerrymandering” is the act of redrawing congressional districts while water skiing, or some such.) But this weekend Krugman’s Times colleague, Nate Cohn, took to the paper’s “Upshot” section to pour more cold water on the complaint.

Cohn writes:

Democrats often blame gerrymandering, but that’s not the whole story. More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live — metropolitan or rural — dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities — like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham — lean Democratic.

In presidential races, Democrats used to win by expanding their appeal beyond urban areas, particularly in the South, but Mr. Obama took a different path to victory in 2008 and 2012. He won the nation’s largest cities with more than 80 percent of the vote — margins that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson could only have dreamed of. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, didn’t win the countryside as decisively as Mr. Obama won the big cities.

The gap between staggering Democratic margins in cities and the somewhat smaller Republican margins in the rest of the country allows Democrats to win key states in presidential and Senate elections, like Florida and Michigan. But the expanded Democratic margins in metropolitan areas are all but wasted in the House, since most of these urban districts already voted for Democrats. The result is that Democrats have built national and statewide majorities by making Democratic-leaning congressional districts even more Democratic, not by winning new areas that might turn congressional districts from red to blue.

What about gerrymandering? Certainly it helps Republicans some. Can it be quantified? Cohn cites a couple political scientists who tried:

The political scientists Jowei Chen, of the University of Michigan, and Jonathan Rodden, of Stanford University, estimate that gerrymandering costs Democrats about six to eight seats in the House. Even so, “by far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage,” Mr. Chen says, “is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

Offsetting the gerrymandering–something both parties do–wouldn’t deliver Democrats the House. What would? Well, here is where it gets interesting. The Democrats, it turns out, are at least partly to blame for this situation. (Perhaps that explains why they cling so desperately to the gerrymandering argument.)

As Cohn explained, the Obama-era Democrats have been successful at the national level because they have pressed their geographic advantage into larger vote margins. To do that, they’ve followed a very smart playbook–but one with a downside. The Democrats nationally have pushed liberal base issues, such as social issues like the fabricated war on women and restrictions on gun rights, among others. In other words, Obama and the Democrats have moved to the left.

This was fairly obvious to anyone who wasn’t emotionally invested in the ridiculous idea of Obama as some kind of centrist or pragmatist. But it alienates voters not typically in the geographical liberal strongholds. Obama’s astute, successful campaign strategy was very good for Democrats on a national level and even at times at the state level (though the GOP has made a strong showing in gubernatorial races). But it was very bad for Democrats on a local, district-by-district level.

It was a tradeoff, and one Democrats would almost certainly believe was worth it. But now they’ve decided to complain, in a very liberal style, that there need be no tradeoffs in the real world; they want it, and if they don’t get it they must have been cheated out of it.

There’s one additional element to this as well. As Jonathan Tobin argued here last year, the Democratic complaints about the Supreme Court’s decision that Congress must revise part of the Voting Rights Act were ironic. After all that law, strictly enforced, translates into the creation and maintenance of a number of majority-minority districts. That means these minority voters, traditionally supporters of Democratic candidates, get drained from other districts to make up VRA-compliant districts. That benefits Republicans in nearby districts, but it’s Democrats who demand the law continue as it is.

So Democrats are at a disadvantage in the House. But it’s a geographic disadvantage mostly of their own making.

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Assessing the GOP’s Shutdown Blues

If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

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If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

For a sober analysis of just how much the Democrats have gained from this episode, it’s instructive to turn to a liberal voice that has been silent for much of the last year: Nate Silver. Silver, the liberal statistician who rocketed to fame as the New York Times’s peerless blogger/prognosticator left the Grey Lady for what will presumably be further fame and fortune at ESPN (he started out as a baseball analyst before he began handicapping elections). But until his new sports site goes up, he’s resurrected his FiveThirtyEight.com blog and weighed in on the shutdown impasse yesterday with some insightful comments about recent events that should give liberals proclaiming victory some food for thought.

His half-dozen bullet points about the partisan confrontation may be debated, but I think they are largely right.

First, is his belief that the media is overhyping the impact of the shutdown. In a 24/7 news cycle, every big story seems like World War Three but, as Silver points out, other huge stories have already come and gone in the past several months like Syria, the IRS Scandal, Benghazi, or even last winter’s fiscal cliff showdown, and if you watch cable news or read the leading dailies, it’s almost as if they never happened. The notion that anything that happens this week or next, short of a real U.S. default (which is not going to happen no matter how the negotiations go) will have much of an impact on November 2014 is simply unfounded.

Just as interesting is his pointing out that the inspiration for President Obama’s decision to dare the GOP to shut down the government shouldn’t give Democrats much comfort. The 1995 government shutdown is widely believed to have badly damaged the Republicans and strengthened President Clinton. As Silver correctly notes, the GOP was not really hurt by the shutdown, as they held onto Congress the next year. There may be some who think it was a major factor in re-electing Bill Clinton in 1996 but count me among those who, like Silver, believe Bob Dole never had a prayer of being elected president, shutdown or no shutdown.

Third, Silver reminds us that the chances of the Democrats winning the midterm elections next year are very low. Given the paucity of competitive House seats (the Senate is very much in play with Democrats standing to lose seats) it would take a wave election for President Obama’s allies to succeed. But such a victory would be virtually unprecedented since it is virtually impossible for an incumbent president’s party to gain seats in the middle of his second term.

Silver also debunks the notion that this is purely the result of Republican gerrymandering since the allocation of seats is more the function of the way the two major parties have split along geographical lines as much ideological ones. For an excellent analysis about why blaming political extremism on gerrymandering is a myth read Sean Trende’s piece in RealClearPolitics.com today. As Trende notes, gerrymandering is an effect, not a cause, of partisanship. But the bottom line is that no matter how much bad press Republicans are getting today, the impact next year is likely to be minimal if not overwhelmed by subsequent events that may not be as favorable to Democrats.

Last, it is way too soon to understand what the result of this latest showdown will be and looking to ephemeral poll numbers (especially since they also have bad results for Obama and the Democrats) is a fool’s errand.

Republicans would do well to ponder how little was accomplished in the last two weeks as well as the responsibility of Cruz and others who are now in the process of walking away from the train wreck that Boehner will have to clean up. But while Obama and the liberals may be getting the better of the tussle today, there is no reason to believe any of it will help them unseat House Republicans.

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Blame Voting Rights Act for Dem Troubles

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

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Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

Edsall laments the way the increase in power to black politicians has been accompanied by a consequent decline of southern Democrats. But rather than being honest about the way the 1965 Act led to the empowerment of blacks as individuals, Edsall prefers to heap opprobrium on a Republican Party that has been the unwitting beneficiary of a legal principle created by liberals. It was, after all, a liberal-dominated judiciary that has treated the Voting Rights Act as not merely a mandate to ensure, as it should, that the government see that every citizen’s right to vote is protected, but that district lines must be drawn in order to see to it that minorities would constitute a plurality or majority in as many places as possible. That has led to the creation, not just in the South but in various places around the United States, of districts that are geographic absurdities but which serve to guarantee that blacks and Hispanics can elect one of their one to legislative bodies. Since blacks (and increasingly Hispanics) give a disproportionate percentage of their votes to Democrats, that means Democrats seeking to compete in mixed districts are placed at a disadvantage. That’s bad news for liberals but claiming that this is the work of nefarious Republican strategists is absurd. If Republicans were to redraw district lines in order to prevent the election of minority members, that would be a clear violation of the law as presently understood.

It should be conceded that the ultimate impact of this court-mandated gerrymandering isn’t good for either party or the country. The majority-minority districts have benefited a few politicians and made their communities proud. But it has been this judicial fiat more than partisan impulses that have led to the dramatic decline in competitive House districts around the nation. Republicans would be better off if more of their members had to appeal to a broad cross section of Americans, and so would Democrats.

As for Edsall, he fails to provide a solution to this problem other than to smear the GOP. What, other than creating rules that would make it illegal for people to vote for Republicans, would he suggest to reverse the decline of Southern Democrats who find themselves disadvantaged by court-mandated districts and incapable of appealing to red state voters on the issues? Does he think Democratic attempts to gerrymander in states they control are just as horrible? Given the way the Voting Rights Act has been interpreted, the damage done by this gerrymander mandate is not something any legislature can remedy by constitutional means.

We would all be better off if the parties were not racially polarized, but the left’s determination to demonize Republicans and to wave the bloody shirt of Jim Crow in a feeble attempt to further divide the nation is no answer. 

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Cries of Racism Cloud Real Issues in Court

Liberals are jumping all over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment yesterday during an oral hearing in which he asked whether continuing the special enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in some states was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Many, including his court colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to interpret it as questioning whether the right to vote is itself a “racial entitlement.” For his pains, Scalia was branded a racist. What is left of the aging remnants of the once-vital civil rights movement are hoping that outrage about that remark can galvanize public pressure not just for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act as it currently stands, but against both voter integrity laws and the system of racial majority districts.

The problem with the critique of Scalia is pretty much the same as that with the defense of the legal status quo. What is at stake in this debate and the legal case in question–Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder–is not the right to vote, which Scalia supports as much as any liberal. There is no evidence that anyone in Shelby County is trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws or prevent African Americans or other minorities from exercising their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Nor is there any evidence that this is true anywhere else in the states and counties that remain under direct federal supervision as a result of the 1965 law. The entitlement in question is rather the ability of the Justice Department to act as a national elections commission in certain areas that were once strongholds of racial hatred, even though the country has changed markedly in the last half century. Instead of promoting the false charge that Scalia is a segregationist, the focus should be on who benefits from the continuation of Section Five of the Act. The answer is: a class of political elites that benefit from the creation of racial majority districts.

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Liberals are jumping all over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment yesterday during an oral hearing in which he asked whether continuing the special enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in some states was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Many, including his court colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to interpret it as questioning whether the right to vote is itself a “racial entitlement.” For his pains, Scalia was branded a racist. What is left of the aging remnants of the once-vital civil rights movement are hoping that outrage about that remark can galvanize public pressure not just for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act as it currently stands, but against both voter integrity laws and the system of racial majority districts.

The problem with the critique of Scalia is pretty much the same as that with the defense of the legal status quo. What is at stake in this debate and the legal case in question–Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder–is not the right to vote, which Scalia supports as much as any liberal. There is no evidence that anyone in Shelby County is trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws or prevent African Americans or other minorities from exercising their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Nor is there any evidence that this is true anywhere else in the states and counties that remain under direct federal supervision as a result of the 1965 law. The entitlement in question is rather the ability of the Justice Department to act as a national elections commission in certain areas that were once strongholds of racial hatred, even though the country has changed markedly in the last half century. Instead of promoting the false charge that Scalia is a segregationist, the focus should be on who benefits from the continuation of Section Five of the Act. The answer is: a class of political elites that benefit from the creation of racial majority districts.

As both the plaintiffs and some of the justices pointed out yesterday, the problem that that provision of the law was designed to address has been solved. Voter turnout of blacks is actually higher in the nine states covered by the Act than in the rest of the country. The continuation of Section Five–in which certain areas must prove they are not discriminating against minorities rather than forcing the government to prove that they are–does, however, hamper the ability of legislatures to redraw districts or to pass voter integrity laws that liberals falsely allege are directed against minorities.

It must be understood that once the detritus of segregation and other laws intended to prevent blacks from voting were swept away, the main point of the law has been to create a system that enshrined racial gerrymandering as the norm. Since it was assumed that whites would never vote for an African American, the courts mandated that congressional and legislative districts be drawn so as to ensure that blacks and in some cases Hispanics would be able to elect one of their own.

This led to a vast expansion of the number of blacks in Congress and in state legislatures, but ironically also hurt the party that most of them supported. The districts created by this racial gerrymander were often bizarrely drawn and had little to do with geography or history. But the main point is that they drained black Democratic voters from other districts that ensured the engineering of a few safe Democratic seats. Yet they also made the remaining districts much whiter and, ironically, far more likely to be Republican.

That was good for the few black politicians who were in possession of these safe Democratic and racially homogeneous seats, and for the Republican Party that cleaned up everywhere else. Whether that is actually good for the country or for African American voters, who have little influence on the composition of Congress and whose representatives are the products of petty one-party autocracies, is another matter entirely.

Just as crucial to understanding the impact of this case is the way the Civil Rights Act has become a weapon to use against voter integrity laws. What is left of the civil rights movement has embraced the cause of stopping voter ID laws as a way of reviving their influence. Minorities are no less capable of getting the same photo ID that is needed to conduct just about any transaction in the modern commercial world or to interact with government than anyone else. But the left attempts to argue that opposition to them is indistinguishable from that of racial justice. This is absurd, and it is opposed by what polls have consistently showed to be the vast majority of Americans—including minorities—who think laws that seek to prevent electoral cheating are inherently reasonable.

The current interpretation of the Voting Rights Act gives Attorney General Eric Holder the right to oppose these laws and to brand them as racist. As the president’s mention of the issue in his State of the Union showed, this is an attempt to play the racial card for partisan purposes. It also gives aging rights groups who have outlived their usefulness a new lease on life. But all this also undermines any notion that what is at stake in the Shelby case is anything remotely connected to the original intent of the 1965 law.

The South has transcended its tragic past and is no more nor less racist than any other part of the country. But given the inability of so many in Congress on both sides of the aisle to rise above their own self-interest on this issue, the court is the only venue that can talk sense and end a practice that now does more mischief than good. Protecting the right to vote is a sacred cause that deserves the support of all Americans. But the preservation of this outmoded system, or wrongly branding Scalia a racist, has nothing to with that.

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