Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Upcoming Redistricting Season

This is what Indiana's Fourth Congressional District looks like:

According to an editorial in my local paper, this district shape is unseemly and "stretches the bounds of reason." Those who reside within a district, according to the editorial, "should have more common ground than geography allows the people in this strangely drawn 4th."  But nothing in life is ever quite so simple.

There is much to say about the way we choose our elected officials in the United States.  But one thing we cannot say is that the process comes with ready-made answers, even if too many of us assume that it does.  For example, and in the famous words of Justice Frankfurter:
Apportionment, by its character, is a subject of extraordinary complexity, involving -- even after the fundamental theoretical issues concerning what is to be represented in a representative legislature have been fought out or compromised -- considerations of geography, demography, electoral convenience, economic and social cohesions or divergencies among particular local groups, communications, the practical effects of political institutions like the lobby and the city machine, ancient traditions and ties of settled usage, respect for proven incumbents of long experience and senior status, mathematical mechanics, censuses compiling relevant data, and a host of others.
This is undoubtedly true.  Yet, instead of grappling with the inherent difficulties of this most political and messy of processes, critics keep it simple. Maps are presumed to speak a thousand words, and that the mere showing of a district and its bizarre contours clinches the argument for redistricting reform.  Of note, this is what led the Court astray in the early 90's, in the Shaw line of cases.  This is also what passes for a good argument today.

I am somewhat indifferent about where reform efforts might lead us in this complex area.  I do know that, having lived in a competitive district for the last 8 years, competitive elections have real, if as-of-yet unexamined, costs.  I also hope that, whichever way this debate ends up, the federal courts stay far away from it. 

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