On March 26, the Supreme Court heard arguments in cases from Maryland and North Carolina, where citizens are asking the court to find that drawing congressional districts along partisan lines is unconstitutional. While these cases are from two individual states, gerrymandering is a national problem, as the hordes of protesters demonstrating on the Supreme Court steps can attest, myself included.
Standing amid signs of “#FairMaps,” “Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around” and “Let Every Vote Count,” I proudly held up my own, a giant map of Maryland's 3rd Congressional District with a circle and line drawn through it. I met ordinary people, some from as far away as Texas, Ohio and Alabama, and some who had gotten up before 5:00am to stand in line not for concert tickets or a Chick-fil-A grand opening but to hear a Supreme Court argument and literally jumped for joy and exchanged high-fives upon learning that they got in.
As one MSNBC commentator noted, talking about gerrymandering isn't “sexy.” As Governor Hogan declared at the rally, “It's not a fight between right and left but a fight between right and wrong.” Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a longtime anti-gerrymandering activist, with a nod to his movie career chimed in with a “Let's terminate gerrymandering!” (California, during Governor Schwarzenegger's term, adopted an independent redistricting commission in 2008, a step Governor Hogan has introduced into the Maryland Assembly during the past four years, but which has been routinely killed in committee). Support for redistricting reform is widespread and bipartisan, with protesters from Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the Brennan Center. Perhaps most tellingly, Roy Cooper, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, and our Governor Hogan co-authored an op-ed in the March 24 Washington Post under the headline, “Politicians can't be trusted to draw electoral maps.”
Along with signs and slogans were several tables set up with Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, a game invented last year by Texas high school student Josh Lafair and his siblings. In Mapmaker, each player-politician picks his or her party affiliation, represented by red, blue, yellow and green colors. Colored-coded chips — which display numbers representing voters — are spread out randomly across the board, with each player starting with the same amount of voters. Players then take turns creating districts, aiming to capture the highest numbers of voters in his or her party within the boundaries. The overall winner is the player-politician with the most districts.
In an interview with the Texas Standard, Lafair said, “I think, especially in America, the whole idea is ‘one vote one person.’ Everyone should have an equal voice and what’s happening with gerrymandering is people’s voices are getting diluted all across the country. My siblings and I believe that gerrymandering isn’t talked [about] enough and maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s still being allowed. We hope that through this board game, we can spark conversations around the country about this issue.” The Lafair siblings hope to distribute the games to state legislatures and courts throughout the country.
A decision in the Supreme Court case is expected in June, likely with the justices split 5-4. Justices Gorsuch, Alito and Thomas seem inclined to leave congressional mapping entirely up to the states, noting that some states, and some state courts, have already imposed limits on congressional gerrymandering. Justices Kagan, Ginsburg and Sotomayor lean toward some constitutional oversight, noting that the flipping of Maryland's Sixth District “effectively [ensured] that Republicans will never win this seat again. How is that not excessive?" Many pundits believe that the key vote is Chief Justice Roberts. The fact remains, however, that the Supreme Court has refused to intervene in political gerrymandering cases the past five times the issue appeared before them, and hope now rests on the fact that both the Maryland and North Carolina legislatures openly and blatantly admitted to gerrymandering for political ends.
Therefore, the Maryland General Assembly should also act now by passing the just introduced House Bill 1430, which would adopt Governor Hogan’s plan to redraw the congressional district lines for the sixth and eighth congressional districts to comply with the United States Maryland District Court ruling on November 7, 2018 requiring the 6th Congressional District boundaries to be redrawn so that there is “geographic contiguity, compactness, regard for natural boundaries and boundaries of political subdivisions, and regard for geographic and other communities of interest – and without considering how citizens are registered to vote or have voted in the past or what political party they belong.”
If a high school student can get it, we can only hope the Supreme Court or the Maryland General Assembly will.