Local Editorials

Court rulings all over the lot on legislative gerrymandering

When it comes to redistricting of federal and state legislative seats, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily what’s good for the gander.

Those familiar with political science will recognize the phrase “laboratories of democracy.”

That’s a reference to the 50 states in the U.S. political system that are separate and free to make public policy as they wish in the context of federal/state governance.

State sovereignty essentially allows each of 50 to set their own rules within our constitutional system.

So keep that in mind when examining a recent decision by a state judge in Kansas who struck down a proposed new congressional map adopted by the state Legislature.

The judge was shocked to discover politics in politics and ordered the Legislature to draw a new map that would withstand his constitutional objections.

“Most Kansans would be appalled to know how the contest ... has been artificially engineered to give one segment of the political apparatus an unfair and unearned advantage,” Judge William Klapper wrote.

There is little doubt the judge is correct in his assessment that Republicans employed a partisan process in producing the congressional map. Their goal is to win all four of the state’s U.S. House seats. They now have three of the four.

Partisanship seems to be impossible to eliminate from redistricting. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s a legally acceptable fact of life, unlike gerrymandering for purposes of racial discrimination.

But the judge here is not without sin. He’s a Democrat who was appointed by a Democratic governor, and the appeal of his decision will be heard by a state supreme court with a Democratic majority.

The New York Times said the Democrats’ court majority suggests a “reasonable prospect” the trial judge’s decision “will be upheld.”

From an Illinois perspective, the ruling comes across as farcical.

After all, Illinois Democrats did the same thing to Illinois Republicans that Kansas Republicans did to Kansas Democrats.

When a coalition of groups representing Hispanics, Blacks and Republicans challenged the Illinois Democrats’ gerrymandered map, a three-judge federal panel said there was no legal problem because partisan gerrymanders are not unlawful.

The judges’ decision on Illinois’ state legislative seats was so emphatic, no one bothered to challenge the Democratic congressional map drawn to produce wins for the party in 14 of the state’s 17 congressional districts.

Some gerrymanders apparently are more equal than others, depending on who’s doing the gerrymandering and who’s doing the judging.

It’s a sad fact of political life that the debate about politicized maps is political folderol designed to disguise the politicians’ interest in rigging the electoral process in legislative elections from the get-go.

Champaign News-Gazette