Congress Should Pass Legislation Ensuring An End To Partisan Gerrymandering [Opinion]

Redistricting reform is sorely needed — but there's no reason the legislative branch, rather than the judiciary, can't address it.

An image of the dictionary definition of "gerrymander."
Casimiro PT / Shutterstock

Redistricting reform is sorely needed — but there's no reason the legislative branch, rather than the judiciary, can't address it.

Redistricting — or, the process by which the states map out where representatives’ districts are located geographically — needs to be addressed, and soon, by Congress.

At issue is the fact that the process itself is largely political, rarely taking into consideration the needs of the people. Both sides of the political aisle (Republicans and Democrats) often engage in actions that result in helping whichever party is in power retain or gain seats in the elections following the dicennial practice. In essence, the lawmakers are selecting their own voters, rather than the voters selecting their lawmakers.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday afternoon that it plans to hear a case in March involving partisan redistricting, sometimes called gerrymandering, which could be decided in June, according to reporting from BuzzFeed News. Their decision could determine whether new methods are needed across the nation to deal with what are clearly partisan-based tactics to skew maps.

But another branch of government should step in before then and pass legislation that deals with the issue head-on. Congress should legislate a guarantee/requirement that all states follow the “Iowa model” of redistricting, which has worked wonders for that state since the 1980s.

Iowa assigns a nonpartisan governmental body to create maps without consideration for who they will benefit, the Boston Globe explained in 2013. Lawmakers are allowed, once the maps are made, to vote against them in the state legislature, and the governor can veto the maps if they want to as well. But since the practice was implemented, there has never been a challenge to these nonpartisan-manufactured maps.

As a result, Iowa’s maps are fair and produce representation based on what constituents want, not on what lawmakers already in office hope to have.

Congress absolutely should pass a law putting Iowa’s method of redistricting into practice across the nation. Would they have the authority to do so?

Within the Constitution, redistricting is left to the states to determine how they want to go about things. But there have been changes in the law on how they can do so; in fact, up until the 1960s, states could draw maps in ways later deemed unfair, including creating districts in which there were large populations in one and smaller populations in others.

A Supreme Court case in 1964 proscribed that practice, requiring states to draw districts with equal populations within the respective states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State legislatures are not given any direction, aside from previous court orders, on how they can draw up their districts. Congress, being a co-equal branch to the judiciary, ought to take a proactive step in the matter, and pass a law telling states to draw their districts out in a more equal and nonpartisan manner.

Such a law, if it were able to pass muster in both houses of Congress (not to mention get beyond President Donald Trump’s veto pen), could be challenged in the courts as well, with some states likely taking issue with their supposed rights being usurped.

But given the reluctance of the Supreme Court to issue out a definitive answer on the problem, it’s likely the courts themselves would differ to the legislative branch on the issue of redistricting — that is, of course, if Congress actually does do something about it.