One of the more rewarding compensations of arriving at late-middle age is an increased appreciation of the inevitability of certain historical trends. I’m not talking cosmic, here, or millennia, but certainly decades, even centuries. Say, from the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In this case, the trend I’m thinking about is the erosion of political dominance and economic hegemony of old white men, or OWM, in western civilization. While this topic often seems as stale and tired as the cohort it addresses, in the way it unfolds and in its multi-faceted details this transition offers many engaging narratives. Some of the more colorful episodes involve varieties of disenfranchisement, including: denying the right to vote, making it difficult to vote and limiting the impact of votes that are cast. America’s OWM protectors have for many years mobilized to fight the rising tide of non-white voters.
Which brings me to the Supreme Court, itself a crumbling bastion of the privilege which it is increasingly called on to undermine. Recent SCOTUS decisions to trash key sanctions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 have encouraged mostly red states to pursue strategies to intimidate, harass and discourage voters with increasing ID requirements, absentee ballot limitations and voting place time and location restrictions, etc. But, there is apparently potential good news on the horizon.
We learned on Monday that the SCOTUS will be reviewing the complaint against Virginia funded by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust. The suit alleges that Virginia’s 2011 House of Delegate Redistricting Plan represented unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. Just two weeks ago this same Court declined to review a lower court finding that Virginia’s 2011 redistricting plan for its ten congressional districts constituted racial gerrymandering.
I was a member of the House of Delegates in 2011 and clearly recall the “deliberations.” However, as a first termer among 39 Democrats and 61 Republicans – with a decided lack of testosterone – my information from the back rooms was largely second-hand. Still, I am confident that what went on in those rooms was, effectively, a bunch of old white men scheming to retain their hold on Virginia’s reins of power, while trying their best to stay within the bounds of legal gerrymandering. I support the complaint by the Trust, as a means to achieve fairer redistricting. But, whether the gerrymanderers were racially motivated or not, to me is an open question, though this view may provoke the ire of many progressive allies.
However, my original point, though, was OWM’s hold on power. In this context, the gerrymandering that matters most is the “legal” kind. The roots of gerrymandering go back to 1812 and Elias Gerry, the Governor of Massachusetts. In Virginia, Patrick Henry tried to gerrymander James Madison out of his seat in Congress. History finally caught up with the process in 1986, when six members of SCOTUS said that “partisan” gerrymandering is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection clause. Unfortunately, the addition of several new faces on the bench disrupted the trend, as the Court’s subsequent partisan gerrymandering cases declared a “Yes, but…” out clause: it is virtually impossible to prove.
I disagree. The 2011 Virginia Congressional District map was a partisan gerrymandering work of art. In 2008 Virginia had six Democrats and five Republicans. In 2010 the rage of the electorate (no need to speculate on the source) transformed the delegation to eight Republicans and three Democrats, with Democrats only securing 41 percent of the votes for Congress. Post redistricting, in the 2012 elections Democrats received 50 percent of the vote, but not a single seat changed. In 2011 the redrawn House of Delegates map ended the legislative careers of eight Democratic delegates, including then Democratic Minority Leader Ward Armstrong.
In reality partisan gerrymandering is certainly not restricted to one party. But, it is an anti-democratic abuse of power, no matter what the race of the perpetrators. Our Democracy will be enlarged and enriched when the SCOTUS comes to its senses and addresses this problem.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]