Republicans today added a second constitutional amendment to, in effect, gerrymander the Supreme Court to a bill, SB22, that proposed a constitutional amendment to stop gerrymandering of the congressional and state legislative elections. The Supreme Court gerrymandering amendment passed on a party line vote. And it means that today all supporters of redistricting reform, including PBPC, withdrew support for SB22 and tomorrow all Democrats will likely vote against it.
We do not yet know what the prospects for SB22 are in the House, but we will join other groups in working to defeat it.
There are some better signs today. PBPC and other groups have been pointing to flaws in the SB22 as amended by Senator Folmer. Those flaws are technical and difficult for many people to understand. But today Senator Vince Hughes put forward an amendment that fixed those flaws and it received unanimous vote the part of the Democratic Party. Senator Hughes’s amendment may need some further tweaks, but it clearly points the way to real redistricting reform that should eventually become law.
The other thing we learned today is why it is so critical that redistricting reform be done right—with sufficient protections against abuse by partisan politicians. Partisan division is so deep today that we must assume that political leaders will use every loophole to further their purposes. And while Democrats are not perfect, it is simply a matter of plain fact that Republicans have a far longer record of stretching, abusing, or changing the rules to serve their partisan purposes.
If you doubt that, look at who drew the terrible gerrymandered maps of 2011. Or who passed Voter ID laws. Or who refused to draw new district lines after the PA Supreme Court threw out the gerrymandered lines of 2011. Or who threatened to impeach the justices of the Supreme Court who did that.
Or just ask Mr. Justice Merrick Garland.
So, let’s just be clear on one thing: The addition of judicial gerrymandering to SB22 wasn’t a betrayal of the Folmer plan / SB22. It has the same end as the Folmer plan / SB22: to change the rules to give Republicans control over our state government without their having to be bothered to actually win more votes in fair elections. The supporters of this bill should have known that.
The key lesson here is that serious redistricting reform must guard against any possible way for the majority party to game the system. Because if they can do it to benefit themselves, they will.
If we learn that, we can devise plans to reform redistricting in the future. And we don’t have to wait until 2031 to do so. We can pass a constitutional amendment and draw new lines under the procedures it contains at any time.