The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can appoint independent commissions to draw legislative and congressional boundaries. Current State speaks with Jocelyn Benson, Dean of the Wayne State University law school and a former candidate for Michigan Secretary of State.
Michigan Democrats are hoping a U.S. Supreme Court decision from last week might level the state’s political “playing field.” will give their party a boost. In an Arizona case, the high court ruled that a state’s voters have the right to establish independent commissions to draw the boundary lines that mark legislative and congressional districts.
In most states, including Michigan, that authority lay with its legislature. That means that every ten years, the majority party “holds the pen” and re-draws the districts as it sees fit. The process commonly leads to gerrymandering: weirdly drawn districts designed to ensure that the party in power, and in Michigan that is the GOP, remains so.
For centuries, critic, typically comprised of the party out of power, routinely have blasted the practice as a unfair distortion of democracy.
Current State speaks with the Dean of the Wayne State University law school who was the Democratic candidate for Michigan Secretary of State in 2010, Jocelyn Benson.
Are citizens paying attention to gerrymandering?
It's this idea of drawing districts and it doesn't directly relate to road funding or whether or not our children are getting a good education, yet it does. It does affect every decision that is made out of the legislature from how much taxes we pay, to whether we have good schools, to whether our roads are fixed. So, I think what voters ultimately see, and we've seen this in other states, is the connection between the way the districts are drawn and the policies that come out of the legislature which essentially are both rights with self interest and driven by special interest. So, by removing the politics with redistricting process as much as possible, I think we can get a little bit closer to a democracy that is really for and of the people as opposed to special interest.
On whether this is a Democratic or Republican issue
Well, to me it's not really a Republican/Democratic issue, it's about a system that's broken. And it's a system that's broken because it's driven by self-interest. No matter who's drawing the line, if you're literally choosing your own voters, drawing your own districts, that's a problem no matter what party you affiliate with. So that's a problem that redistricting reform is trying to fix – to take the pen out of the hands of the elected officials regardless of what party they're in and put it in the hands of the people so they can draw the districts that they want to use to elect their representatives.
How the Supreme Court decision reaches beyond Arizona
The court recognized that the legislature is ultimately comprised of the people, number one. And number two, that the legislature has the ability to transfer its power of legislating to the people if it so chooses. So, what the court said is if you create the ability for citizens to amend their constitution through the initiative process, if a legislature creates that ability, then that is essentially ceding that ability, that authority to the voters and they have every right to use it to enact laws that they favor. I think the opinion brings us a lot closer to a more direct representative democracy that our Congress envisions and broadly interprets that we're legislature, to recognize voters are essentially a part of the legislative process.