October 14, 2003


Three Days of the Hammer (NY Times, 10/14/03)

After a five-month struggle that had resistant Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state, Mr. DeLay achieved a masterpiece of partisan gerrymandering: a map drawn up to net him as many as seven new Republican seats in Congress next year at the expense of incumbent Democrats. To have his way, Mr. DeLay, aptly nicknamed The Hammer in the Capitol, pioneered a new sort of out-of-season redistricting, which voters must hope does not prove contagious in statehouses across the land.

Mr. DeLay had his loyalists scrap the current court-ordered, two-year-old map, based on the 2000 census, and hurry an egregiously pro-Republican map into place without waiting for the next census. And the congressman personally walked the Statehouse to nail down the final deal. Texas wasn't just gerrymandered; it was Hammermandered.

The only thing they leave out, and it would seem significant, is that the districting plan that's being replaced was based on the 1990, not the 2000, census.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 14, 2003 8:13 AM

Nevertheless, the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. I decided this morning that when I win the Powerball (any day now!) I will make the world a better place by moving to contstitutionally ban gerrymendering. It's a G.D. travesty.

Amendment: All US congresssional district boundries MUST be a pre-existing county line. If one county requres more than one US representative, the county government shall, within the county, draw lines as necessary, subject to an up or down approval by the state legislature. Tout fini.

This would not only stop this appalling nonsense of "politicians picking their voters", rather than the other way around, but it would, I believe, foster a healthier relationship between local and federal governenance.

Posted by: Andrew X at October 14, 2003 9:14 AM


That is gerrymandering according to the Court. Under its rulings, the Senate, which accords representation based on statehood (a parallel to your country idea) would be unconstitutional.

Posted by: OJ at October 14, 2003 9:18 AM

The state Republicans did not help themselves image-wise with the extended battle over the West Texas congressional district lines, which DeLay eventually had to mediate, though that dispute is unlikely to make a major dent in the 2004 vote with Bush at the top of the ballot.

As for the districts, they'll likely face a court challenge, but the Democrats' main complaint right now seems to be a disenfranchisement of minority voters by Republicans because they're attempting to eliminate white Democratic congressmen (Steholm, Frost, etc.). Unless they do a good job "judge shopping" in the Texas federal court system, it's hard to see this argument going very far (and even if it does, the 5th Circuit in New Orleans will reverse).

Posted by: John at October 14, 2003 9:44 AM

The relationship between counties and states is not equivalent to that of the states and the federal government. County governments and country lines are creatures of the state, and have no independent existence. Require that district boundaries follow the county boundaries, and you will see counties being "adjusted".

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 14, 2003 11:13 AM


SAT question:

State is to Nation as County is to:

(a) State

(b) Fair

(c) Hephalump

Posted by: OJ at October 14, 2003 11:23 AM


Image? They picked up 5 House seats. This is politics, not sneaker sales.

Posted by: OJ at October 14, 2003 11:30 AM

Texas had previously been gerrymandered Democratic, though the efficiency of the gerrymander was increasingly undermined by the sheer weight of the state's drift towards the Repubs.

Still, the gerrymander remained pretty powerful as late as 2002. That election produced 17 out of 32 Democratic congressmen, though the Dems only drew 45% of the two-party vote.

My guess is a 58-42 split of the two-party vote in 2004 (with Bush at the top of the ticket), giving a 20-12 Repub-Dem split of the congressional seats. Not really a super-efficient Repub gerrymander - certainly not as efficient as the Dem gerrymander back in the 1990s.

Posted by: Casey Abell at October 14, 2003 1:03 PM


I'm not sure I get it. "That is gerrymandering", well, I suppose any possible restructuring of congressional districts, certainly to some higher end, could be called gerymandering. I think I'm pretty clear about specifically addressing the longtime procedure of deliberately drawing the maps to benefit the people who are doing the drawing.

Under the aptly named "Andrew X amendment", state legislatures would still be choosing the boundries, they would just be very limited in the lines they get to choose from. Thus, their ability to turn districts into corkscrews to secure their seats, i.e. "choose their voters" would be severely constrained, thus the purpose of the amendment is achieved.

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think that this would have any bearing on the Senate or it's perogatives or precedence. The constitution says Senate accords representation, and the state legislatures take it from there (no?). This amendment WOULD directly affect how state legislatures do that, as it should.

Besides, unless I am mistaken, a constitutional amendment can outlaw free speech, or Christianity, or whatever. As long as it passes the Congress and two-thirds of the states, it IS the constitution. It's not like the court can overturn THAT.

The whole purpose here, BTW, is to empower the center against the extemes on both sides. I just beleive we would be a happier and more unified nation.

Posted by: Andrew X at October 14, 2003 1:15 PM

Maybe I'm cynical but I've never been impressed by the moral indignation against gerrymandering. Too often that indignation has depended on whose bull (excremental pun intended)is getting gored.

Somehow the NY Times didn't mind the very efficient Democratic gerrymander in Texas during the 1990s. That masterpiece produced 21 Democratic and 9 Republican congressmen in the 1992 election, despite the Dems only getting a 51-49 edge in the two-party popular vote. If the Times expressed indignation over this brilliancy, I don't recall it.

Since then Texas has elected a Republican statehouse. If the voters are so SHOCKED, SHOCKED at the Repub gerrymander, they have an obvious recourse: bring back the Dems in the Texas state legislature. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one, as Texas has become one of the GOP's strongest redoubts.

Which is what really irritates the NY Times.

Posted by: Casey Abell at October 14, 2003 1:27 PM


I do not have a link, but I recall seeing some of the Southern "minority majority" districts having boundaries on either side of interstate highways in order to pick up the necessary numbers of minorities ("Jesse-mandering?"). Reminded me of the Chicago city limits that look like a lollypop in order to include revenue rich O'Hare airport.

Democrats wailing about Republicans redistricting on a political basis is like the pot calling the kettle black. No pun intended.

Posted by: Rick T. at October 14, 2003 1:31 PM

The Constitution only mandates that a state be allocated a number of representatives proportionate to their total population. By requiring every state to have at least one representative, it is violating the principle of equal representation, too.

States should be allowed to apportion their representatives in any way they want, including violations of the Supreme Court created "one man one vote" rule. It's up to the people of the state to punish their legistators if they go too far.

(And that's three quarters of the states need to approve a proposed amendment, not two thirds.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 14, 2003 2:19 PM

Consider that in CA there may be as few as what? maybe three counties that could be counted on to elect Democrats?

Posted by: oj at October 14, 2003 2:23 PM

re: SAT question

You missed the point entirely. States are not made up of counties. Counties are made by the states, and exist solely at the discretion of the laws passed by the legislatures of those states. Counties as entities have no say over what goes on in their respective state capitals. Counties do not send representatives to the state capital to represent their counties interests. (The Supreme Court took care of the idea of a state Senate doing that.) Counties have not taxing authority not explicitly granted them by the state. In urban areas, counties are often little more than the caretaker for the areas no city wants to claim.

So unless you can demonstrate otherwise, the correct answer is "C".

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 14, 2003 2:29 PM

I'm only familiar with NH and NJ where that scenario of powerless counties is totally untrue. When's the last time your State changed a county border?

Posted by: oj at October 14, 2003 2:41 PM


Their intra-party squabbles might cost them one seat, losing it to Stenholm in West Texas. He's paired with first-termer Randy Neugebauer out of Lubbock, and has been around long enough (and votes the right way enough times) so that the eastern part of his district might switch to the "D' column for the District 19 race because they think he was treated unfairly by the legislature, even while those voters back Republicans on the rest of the ballot.

(and just as an update, the Democrats did file suit today in Tyler against the plan, though as I said before, convincing a judge that removing someone like Martin Frost, Chet Edwards or Lloyd Doggett from office is a de facto disenfranchisment of minorites in Texas is going to be slapped down, if not in Tyler then in New Orleans on appeal).

Posted by: John at October 14, 2003 2:48 PM

Massachusetts disbanded its counties several years ago.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 14, 2003 2:59 PM

It's possible that Charlie Stenholm will hang around in 2004. But he wasn't enormously popular even in his old 17th district. He only got 51.4% in 2002, winning by four measly points over the Repub. That's a pretty pathetic showing for such a long-termer.

Somehow, I don't think that vague "indignation" will save Charlie, but I could be wrong. Hey, I goofed on the Terminator pretty bad.

Posted by: Casey Abell at October 14, 2003 3:36 PM