The mainstream media has been touting the significance of a Pennsylvania court ruling which “re-drew” the Congressional districts in the state in a more “equitable” fashion. Liberal New York media has gone out of their way to play up the ruling’s impact – The New York Times gushed about the new map’s benefits for Democrats…
Democrats couldn’t have asked for much more from the new map. It’s arguably even better for them than the maps they proposed themselves. Over all, a half-dozen competitive Republican-held congressional districts move to the left, endangering several incumbent Republicans, one of whom may now be all but doomed to defeat, and improving Democratic standing in two open races.
…and New York Magazine suggested that the ruling could result in the Democratic party gaining control of Congress:
The new map means that Democrats can expect to compete in the majority of the 18 congressional races in November, with experts generally concurring that they could pick up more than ten seats. Democrats need 24 seats total to take back the House of Representatives, so this could have enormous implications for control of Congress.
Undeniably, the new map is bad for Republicans…
which is why President Trump is pushing to have the ruling behind the new map thrown out:
Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new “pushed” Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018
In the old map, the districts in the Philadelphia area (particularly the 1st, 6th, 7th, and 13th) are extremely oddly shaped, with the 6th and 7th going “around” each other. It is hard to argue the logic behind fixing Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered districts – voters in any given district should have some sort of relevant spatial arrangement to one another, and not be forced needlessly into Congressional districts with distorted shapes.
But Democrats should be extremely wary when it comes to uncorking the gerrymandering genie. Shaping Congressional districts is a double-edged sword, and it is extremely naive to believe that Republicans have been the only party creating and benefiting from gerrymandered districts.
For starters, it is important to understand how these districts are created in the first place. The state legislatures in most states draw their districts (see a full state-by-state breakdown here). In Pennsylvania’s case, the state legislature is Republican-controlled, hence the previous map which is favorable to the GOP. However, Democrats have appointed the majority of the state’s judges. It should surprise exactly no one that the battle for PA’s redistricting is a partisan affair, especially with President Trump’s commentary.
At the end of the day, the districts are arbitrarily drawn on by whichever party is in power in any given state. There is no rhyme or reason towards placing one township in one district and another in a different one, except to gain an advantage for the party. Democrats stating that the practice is a uniquely-Republican one is as intellectually dishonest as it is patently false.
Illinois is a perfect example of districts gerrymandered by Democrats, for Democrats. The state legislature is Democrat-controlled, and that is reflected in the state’s Congressional districts:
This is particularly pertinent in high-density Chicago, which has been tailor-gerrymandered to suit the Democratic party:
The state legislature has done everything it can to effectively extend the influence of Chicago’s Democratic vote, using gerrymandered districts to mitigate suburban and rural Republican voters. As a result, Republicans are all but unable to compete for any seat near Chicago:
The same is true in Maryland – a Democrat-controlled legislature has drawn districts that are as misshapen as those in Pennsylvania and the Chicago area:
Once again, Democrats have maximized the influence of their urban and suburban voters in their district shaping. As a result, Republicans can only realistically control Maryland’s 1st district – the 5th, 6th, and possibly the 7th and 8th districts have been drawn to “drown out” more rural voters, especially those near the border with West Virginia (in which was dominated by President Trump in the 2016 election).
What would the net impact of a “proper” nationwide gerrymander be, that reflects more neatly drawn boundaries without respect to party? The difference would likely be negligible for both sides. At the end of the day, since the lines are arbitrarily drawn, someone (or party) is going to try to game the system to maximize their influence. It would probably be no different if boundaries were forced to be drawn more “neatly” instead of today’s misshapen gerrymanders.
If the gerrymandering ruling in PA holds up in Federal court, expect to see a number of legal challenges to gerrymanders in other states (particularly Illinois and Maryland). And if that happens, expect to see Democrats cry to high heaven about “illegal” Republican attempts to gerrymander the country’s Congressional districts.