As the June 28 editorial “It is up to citizens on redistricting” correctly noted, “Partisan gerrymandering is a grievous problem that undermines democracy.” Other editorials have lamented the gridlock that infects our politics. I submit that the two are entwined.
When a congressional district is drawn to the unquestioned advantage of one party, such as Maryland’s 6th, where I was a candidate in 2016 and 2018, it moves the real contest from Election Day to primary day, from a broad-based election to a narrowly circumscribed one.
The risk, especially to an incumbent, now comes from within his or her ranks, not from the other party. That produces candidates with no incentive to compromise and with an incentive to move to the extremes of the party position, which is precisely the formula for gridlock and continued divisiveness.
That is why concerned citizens from both sides of the aisle, as well as independents, and I are taking steps to support Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) call that redistricting in Maryland be done by a nonpartisan panel, as is already the case in several states, including swing state Ohio. If Maryland takes this simple step to make its elections more meaningful, we will have helped end gridlock in Congress.
Amoretta M. "Amie" Hoeber, Potomac
The Supreme Court’s decision rejecting jurisdiction over partisan gerrymandering raised an interesting question. According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s opinion, “Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” There is, as we know, no constitutional right to vote, which is why we’ve needed amendments to extend the right to African Americans, women and 18-year-olds. If “partisan” political actions are political and “beyond the reach” of the courts, what is to prevent a state — North Carolina springs to mind — from enacting legislation allowing only Republicans, for example, to vote? Nothing in the Constitution precludes this, and if the statute were challenged as a blatantly “partisan” act, on what basis could it now be challenged? The more one thinks about this decision, the more horrifying it becomes.
George Chuzi, McLean
Across the country, a dozen federal judges agreed that gerrymandering violates the Constitution and that it can and should be called out in court. But it came down to just five men in the end, and they said courts have no role in partisan gerrymandering cases.
According to those five justices, refusing to police partisan gerrymandering is an expression of judicial minimalism and respect for the political branches. The modern conception of judicial minimalism traces to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dissenting opinion in Lochner v. New York from 1905. Holmes disagreed that the court should strike down the state law at issue in that case. It is for the legislature to make public policy, not for unelected judges to supplant their own preferred policies for those enacted by the political branches. Holmes’s case for judicial minimalism was thus deeply pro-democratic.
It would be hard to miss the unsettling irony here: Holmes’s respect for the political branches depended on their responsiveness to the people. Yet his brand of minimalism has now been invoked to support judicial tolerance for practices that are openly at war with democratic accountability. If that seems wrong, it’s because it is.
Michael Kimberly, Chevy Chase
The writer was lead counsel in the Maryland partisan gerrymandering case.