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Monday, March 07, 2005

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This passes for intelligent argument?

WaPo published an editorial today on redistricting. It seems they're a bit upset about what we did down here in Texas.
WHEN TEXAS Republicans embarked on their unusual effort to redraw legislative district lines in the middle of a decennial census cycle, the ugly future of one of the ugliest features of American democracy was not hard to foresee. Redistricting fights and abuses, instead of taking place only every 10 years, would become an ongoing fixture of politics. Whenever one party obtained a momentary dominance in a state, it would rearrange the legislative boundaries both to maintain its electoral advantages within the state and to bolster its representation in the House of Representatives at the expense of incumbents of the other party. Barely a year after the Texas fiasco, that future is now.

Republicans in Georgia, newly in control of the major levers of government for the first time since Reconstruction, are finishing a redistricting bill that would put two Democratic members of the House in jeopardy. Democrats are getting into the act, too. At a news conference last week, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) insisted that while he believes "on principle" that "this ought to be done every 10 years as it has been historically done," Democrats "would be foolish to sit on the sidelines and have our heads beaten in and not . . . see what we can do in response." National Democrats have reportedly been urging their parties in Louisiana, New Mexico and Illinois -- states where Democrats have gained control over government since the last redistricting -- to reconsider the political maps.
Keep in mind that our forefathers, whose record has been pretty good so far, designed the system to be political. Furthermore, there's nothing in the Constitution that requires redistricting every tenth year nor does it prohibit redistricting more often, although I don't think that was the intent of the forefathers.

In fact, Article 1, Section 2 specifically states, "The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct." (Emphasis mine.)

"Within every subsequent Term of ten Years" means sometime during that ten years. The redistricting that was done in Texas was done in accordance with that clause. In 2000, the Texas legislature was unable to come to an agreement and redistricting was done by the courts. That was not in accordance with the Constitution.

I suppose it's a matter for the courts to decide if "The enumeration" means one and only one each ten years, but the language certainly allows for redistricting any time during the ten year period if it's the first time.

But WaPo's arguments for changing redistricting are sophistry at its finest.
Redistricting is already playing a deeply corrosive role in American politics, allowing politicians to choose the voters who will maintain them in power. American legislative elections are dramatically noncompetitive; the incumbents nearly always win -- except, that is, when a district has been set up specifically to target someone of the other party. The result is an ever more polarized Congress unaccountable to the voters who nominally elect it.
First of all, redistricting has always been political. It was designed that way.

Secondly, elections are not "dramatically noncompetitive" only because of redistricting. The franking privilege as well as pork-barrel spending are at least as corrosive as redistricting is. If WaPo was really serious about desiring turnover in Congress, then why don't they argue for term limits? (And if term limits are unconstitutional as some contend, then how is it that the Presidents' terms were limited to two by the 22nd Amendment?)

Finally, the idea that "The result is an ever more polarized Congress unaccountable to the voters who nominally elect it" is preposterous on its face. You may not like who represents you (and this is the case for perhaps almost 50% of the population in every election), but that person does represent you. To claim that a Republican in New York is not represented simply because their representative and Senators are Democrats is a syllogistic fallacy. To claim that a Democrat in Texas is not represented simply because their representative and Senators are Republicans is the same specious argument.

WaPo's solution?
An alternative exists to Republicans' repeating their mischief and Democrats' mimicking it. Both sides could agree on a national law that sets standards for legislative line-drawing. Clarifying that redistricting can take place only immediately after a census would be a good place to start.
The problem with this "solution" is that the Constitution defines how redistricting works not the Congress. If the writers really want to see these changes made, they should be arguing for an amendment not a law.

But then that would be discontinuous with their entire argumentation, wouldn't it?