The answer to how America’s political climate has become so hostile and why Republicans and Democrats seem so unwilling to forge compromise of any kind might be most easily explained by the effects of local redistricting. It’s a practice that allows those in power to geographically exclude people who might vote for the other party by redrawing lines that dictate which vote gets counted where. Districts that are completely partisan don’t elect the middle ground, they elect candidates that pander most to their base—those who can be “most republican” or “most democratic.” Once on Capitol Hill, there’s little incentive to work together if the goal is to preserve one’s place in power, and that means appealing only to one side of the aisle back home.
So it comes as little surprise that redistricting plans from state representatives of Texas, whose government is dominated at every level by Republicans, would be viewed skeptically by a federal judicial panel in Washington, DC. This week, that panel ruled that the Texas legislature employed “improper” means of shaping congressional districts to better reflect growing numbers of minority voters.
Critics of the Texas plan worried that the map would not reflect the number of Latino residents because it created only one new minority-dominated district and three more that would easily go to the Republican base. Because the Texas legislature has a history of excluding minorities through redistricting, it is required to receive pre-clearance for redistricting from the Justice Department.
There’s a growing movement across America to handover redistricting powers to bi-partisan commissions. Of course, in place like California and Florida, where incumbents have tortuously gerrymandered districts to protect their own interests, these commissions aren’t all that popular. But they are necessary, as the courts can only approve or reject new plans and cannot proactively seek to redraw maps to reflect populations rather than politics.
The duty of redistricting in Texas now falls to a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio, who must create and ratify an interim redistricting plan for the sure to be contentious 2012 elections. The District Court’s decisions will likely favor state democrats as the republican majority has had the power to further entrench itself during a decade of dominance.
This is a classic example of judiciary forces providing a much needed check on the government representatives eager to cement their party’s power. What’s worrisome is that so much damage has already been done, and it’s only through attempts to attain more power that courts will have the ability to intervene in states that have not adopted independent commissions.