This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Redistricting Battles Head to Court

You will recall that the Constitutional mandate for the US census is to apportion seats to the House of Representatives (that's done and agreed to), and to provide data for Congressional redistricting. The new redistricting maps have been drawn in almost every state (but not yet in Colorado or New Mexico), and now the court battles over them has begun. The New York Times reports that "[L]awsuits related to redistricting have been filed in more than half the states, asking judges to decide issues that include whether the new maps take partisan gerrymandering too far or discriminate against minority voters."


The most bizarre incident, though, has taken place in Arizona, where Governor Jan Brewer actually was able to oust the head of the state's non-political redistricting commission, apparently because the new redistricting maps were not sufficiently favorable to Republicans. As the New York Times reports:

Following the recommendation of Ms. Brewer, a Republican, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 21 to 6 on Tuesday night to remove Colleen C. Mathis, chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Lawyers raced to court in a long-shot effort to overturn the decision.
“I will not sit idly by while Arizona’s Congressional and legislative boundaries are drawn in a fashion that is anything but constitutional and proper,” said Ms. Brewer, who has condemned the maps proposed by the commission as biased toward Democrats.
Arizona voters decided in 2000 that a citizens’ commission of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairman would draw political lines and that commissioners could be removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate only for “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.”
Ms. Brewer accused Ms. Mathis, who is registered as an independent, of improperly conducting commission business out of public view and of skewing the redistricting process toward Democrats.
Paul Charlton, a former United States attorney who is representing Ms. Mathis, dismissed those accusations and said Ms. Brewer and other Republicans were politicizing the process because they were frustrated that they could not control it.
One of the problems with Arizona's commission is probably its small size, which lends itself to the appearance of partisanship, even if none was involved. California, which created an independent commission more recently than Arizona, and whose first work was this round of redistricting, created a 19-member commission, which is likely to bring in more diversity of opinion about the redistricting process and thus have a greater chance of appeasing critics. Of course, that hasn't kept lawsuits from being filed in California:
A lawsuit filed by Republicans charges that the maps violate the Voting Rights Act by eliminating some majority black districts in south Los Angeles.
Kathay Feng, the executive director of California Common Cause, who helped lead the fight for the independent commission, said the lawsuit was a cynical attempt to get a more favorable map. “This is night and day from what we had before, which was a dog-and-pony show where the Legislature pretended to have negotiations,” Ms. Feng said. “What they really did was to entrench themselves.”

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