In Louisiana, we have traditionally not had a strong partisan tilt in politics, with Republicans and Democrats acting as blocs in the state Legislature. That has been changing in recent years but it is still nowhere near as controlling a factor as it is in the capitals of most states.
Nevertheless, Louisiana ought to be watching closely the debate among justices of the U.S. Supreme Court over redistricting — the process of drawing new lines for districts for elected officials in Congress, but also at every other level of government where districts are required.
The new case involves a lawsuit challenging district lines created by the Wisconsin State Assembly, dominated by Republicans. The districts were drawn, with the aid of computers, to ensure a GOP supermajority in the body, even if Democrats got a majority of the statewide vote; Democratic voters were “packed” into some districts to create GOP majorities in others.
As should be obvious, this is hardly new, as you could switch the names of the parties and find similar practices in other states. Courts have deplored this practice, which does infringe upon the constitutional guarantee of a right to vote. The late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that courts don’t have “manageable standards” for deciding whether unconstitutional gerrymandering had occurred.
In the most recent case, Chief Justice John Roberts echoed those concerns in oral arguments. He is clearly concerned, especially after the partisan fallout from the disputed 2000 presidential election, that courts would be too often seen as partisan in such rulings.
Maybe there will be a brilliant ruling from the high court to untangle the mess, but no new judicial doctrine is needed if Wisconsin — and Louisiana — would adopt the practices of more progressive states, from Iowa to California, that have created nonpartisan redistricting commissions.
The commissions would have criteria about creating compact districts, not breaking up cities and parish lines where possible, and complying with the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Then, lawmakers would have an up-or-down vote on the result, but could not amend the maps for partisan or personal advantage. A similar process would be a good practice for electing city councils and other bodies, where incumbents draw opponents out of their districts, and craft more politically friendly neighborhoods into them.
In Louisiana, the partisan framework of the Wisconsin situation is not the norm, but that may come, as partisan divisions become more pronounced in the Legislature. Incumbents tend to like the practice of politicians choosing their voters, rather than the other way around.
It’s wrong. We can go down the Wisconsin road, or do something better.