Can the Republican Plan for Redistricting Be Stopped?

Ultra-conservative congressman Rand Paul
Ultra-conservative congressman Rand Paul

It seems that many voters either didn't care or weren't paying attention to what it actually means with the Republican wins during the last midterm elections. Voters will not receive unemployment benefits, middle-class Americans will be taxed higher while wealthy Americans will have tax cuts, and job creation will be slower. In addition to those things, Slate's Heather Gerken reminds us that Republicans also won the right to preserve and add to those seats in future elections. How? In most places, state legislators draw districting plans for themselves and for members of Congress. Nineteen statehouses flipped during the midterm elections, which means that many more congressional districts will be redrawn in the 2010 cycle in states under Republican control than under Democratic control. The GOP will surely use its legislative muscle to consolidate its wins, shoring up districts where Republicans won by a close margin and creating additional Republican seats where it can.


The Supreme Court has refused to place any explicit constraints on partisan districting. The "one person, one vote" principle still holds, but it turns out you can come up with a vicious partisan gerrymander and still draw districts with equal populations. All that's left to constrain either party is the Voting Rights Act. The purpose of the act is to protect racial minorities from discrimination, not to thwart partisan gerrymandering. But because the VRA tells a state what it must do for racial minorities, it necessarily limits what politicians can do for themselves. We wonder why? The statute has thus become the litigation vehicle of choice for both parties when they get walloped during the redistricting process. It's a cynical use of the law that is one of the crown jewels of the civil rights movement. But it's been effective thus far. The question is, will it continue to be effective with politicians like Rand Paul who want to repeal the Civil Rights Act and still win their elections? How far behind is a repeal of the Voting Rights Act?