Joe Conason's Journal

Led by DeLay and Hastert, the Republicans are trying to gerrymander themselves into perpetuity.

By Salon Staff
Published December 2, 2003 7:09PM (EST)

Republican "reform" and a decade of deception
In power, the congressional Republicans who once promised "reform" have adopted all the awful habits of their Democratic predecessors -- except that the Republicans are behaving considerably worse. They have abused the old pork-barrel system to an extent that Democrats never dared. They have ripped House rules and violated bipartisan norms in a manner that even the most dictatorial Democratic leaders never contemplated.

Led by Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert, the Republicans have long since abandoned their vaunted commitment to term limits and other such showbiz props of 1994. Instead, they are pursuing an unprecedented, nationwide, centralized attempt to gerrymander themselves into perpetuity.

As Jeffrey Toobin lucidly explains in the New Yorker, the political perversion of congressional districts has been a game played by both parties since the nation's founding. Lately, however, Tom DeLay has played for Republican advantage with a blatancy that mocks constitutional notions of fair representation and competitive democracy.

Toobin reports that when Pennsylvania's Republican legislative leaders announced their plan to redraw congressional lines to ensure the election of more GOP members, DeLay and Hastert sent them an equally candid letter, which said in part: "We wish to encourage you in these efforts, as they play a crucial role in maintaining a Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives." They proceeded to carve Pennsylvania "into many strangely shaped districts, which won monikers like the 'supine seahorse' and the 'upside-down Chinese dragon.'" In 2002, the GOP won 12 of the state's 19 House seats.

Of course, DeLay has done likewise in his own state of Texas (an effort dubiously financed with money from Washington lobbyists). And he has promoted precisely the same approach to fixing electoral outcomes in Republican-controlled Colorado as well.

On Monday, however, the Colorado Supreme Court found that DeLay's minions in the Denver statehouse had violated the state constitution by seeking to redistrict too long after completion of the 2000 census. The Colorado outcome is a victory for fairness. (It also revealed the whimsically anarchic attitude of the Republicans, who madly insisted that they should be able to redistrict every single year if they feel like it.) But the decision in Denver doesn't address the fundamental problem posed by the expansive GOP gerrymandering campaign.

That task now lies before the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted cert on a challenge to the Pennsylvania gerrymander and will hear arguments this month. The justices have given themselves the opportunity to render a nonpartisan decision that advances democracy -- with a result that would be remembered rather differently from the court's burdensome legacy of Bush vs. Gore. Toobin points out that the founders never intended their representative system to be perverted by partisan schemers like DeLay. But does this court possess the courage and wisdom to build a "strict construction" around him?
[11 a.m. PST, Dec. 2, 2003]

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