Democrats' last line of defense against GOP gerrymandering: the Voting Rights Act
Emboldened by new Census numbers, Republicans will use their redistricting power to squeeze Democrats out. President Obama can stop it, if has the guts to use the Voting Rights Act.
Reinvigorated from seizing control of the House of Representatives, congressional Republicans are primed to drastically cement their new majority through next year’s round of national redistricting. But precisely how successful Republicans will be in imposing a spate of GOP-friendly state maps could depend on the extent of their gerrymandering and whether the Obama administration chooses to aggressively challenge them through the Voting Rights Act.Skip to next paragraph
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Pursuant to Article I of the Constitution, congressional reapportionment takes place every ten years. Because the careful drawing of House district lines make all the difference in electing a swath of Democrats or Republicans, the process has been bitterly contested since the start of the 19th century. Whichever party holds the upper hand can better solidify a durable majority in what remains a closely divided nation. This fall, Republicans won a decisive advantage in redistricting, winning 11 new governorships, holding onto a dozen more, and either grabbing or expanding existing full control of state houses across the country.
In many of these states such as Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, or Wyoming, complete party control matters little in terms of congressional representation, as their delegations are very small and thus not susceptible to drastic redrawing for GOP gain, or are already maxed-out in overwhelming favor to Republicans. Yet in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania – and others losing seats based on this week's Census results – the GOP will have huge leeway to cut down blue seats at will, as hobbled minority Democrats currently licking their wounds are largely powerless to prevent Republican entrenchment.
Voting Rights Act
Several states have overcome this problem by turning to nonpartisan panels to draw legislative lines. But in the majority of states, the only check Democrats have on Republican-controlled reapportionment (besides their own majorities in a handful of remaining key states) is the Voting Rights Act. However, that landmark legislation can only come into play if Republicans are over-ambitious and partisan in what maps they impose.
Passed by Congress in 1965, the Voting Rights Act makes up the lasting centerpiece of the Great Society. The Act mandates that states may not hinder minority voting rights through various means, including by breaking up majority-minority congressional districts. It was intended to prevent state legislatures, particularly those in the South, from diluting or wholly usurping minority representation.
This remains a particular danger given the political situations in a handful of states next year including Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, where Republican governors and legislative majorities are eyeing the imposition of tough gerrymanders. In Michigan and Ohio, which are shedding districts because of negative population shifts, new GOP majorities will seriously consider eliminating districts based around Cleveland and Detroit. Doing so would further hurt reeling congressional Democrats and produce stronger red state maps through 2020, but also eliminate minority districts.