The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to address gerrymandering has left some states seeking new ways to solve the problem. Virginia’s Redistricting Commission has failed to meet its Oct. 2 deadline to decide on a legislative district map that will determine the composition of the districts for the next 10 years. The Commission, made up of eight Democrats and eight Republicans, was formed less than a year ago in an attempt to create a more reliable method of objective decision making than proposing bills in the state legislature. This map is the Commission’s first, and all eyes are on its members to see if they produce a more effective district layout. However, after an explosive meeting Oct. 8 wherein several Democrat Commission members walked out, the issue will most likely go to the Virginia Supreme Court.
In the face of attempts to restrict voting rights in the U.S., a well-drawn, bipartisan map is vital. Gerrymandering, the manipulation of district lines to seek a political advantage, is an all-too-common method of voter suppression. According to the Brennan Center, Republicans were responsible for the majority of gerrymandering in the last decade, and Republican gerrymandering has greatly impacted communities of color — particularly African Americans, who tend to vote Democrat.
This isn’t to say Democrats haven’t drawn up any questionable district maps. Oftentimes, district maps reflect the interests of the majority party in a state’s legislature, resulting in a dangerous cycle. A party in power has the advantage of creating district lines that only serve to keep them in power, regardless of public opinion. This process is deeply undemocratic, and Virginia’s attempts at reform are a good sign.
Despite this, the Commission is in gridlock, divided between a Democrat- and Republican-backed map. This intransigence is all too familiar in the current political climate. Just like in Congress, this commission is getting nowhere.
At the national level, gerrymandering is only getting worse. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule gerrymandering unconstitutional on the presumption that district drawing shouldn’t be the responsibility of the federal court system. But if the Supreme Court doesn’t have the authority to rule on redistricting bias, who does? Legislatures benefit at both the state and national levels because gerrymandering helps keep them in power, so they can’t be relied on to make an objective decision. The president would risk party reproach if he were to take a stance.
“If you could give the job of redistricting to nonpartisan, independent judges and have them create binding maps, then you can do away with gerrymandering, but that will never happen unless the Supreme Court rules gerrymandering unconstitutional,” JMU political science professor Martin Cohen said.
So, how should redistricting be handled if legislative mandates and bipartisan committees can’t generate effective maps and the courts refuse to rule on gerrymandering? Now that the Commission has failed, perhaps Virginia should look into hiring from outside the political sphere. Some have suggested that statisticians would make an effective alternative. They’d be skilled at the math required for the job and owe no obvious party allegiance, though that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own views. I’d argue that finding a perfectly unbiased method is impossible: Everyone has their own opinions, and to sort through how they might affect redistricting would be too complicated.
For now, we must maintain hope that the Commission doesn’t continue to follow Congress’ path and finds a way to compromise. This is the Commission's first attempt at making an official map, so it should be no surprise that the members are facing challenges. Hopefully, they learn from their mistakes by the Oct. 25 deadline for a congressional district map. It all depends on whether or not they can overcome their differences in pursuit of objectivity and fairness because if the Supreme Court won’t solve gerrymandering, Virginia must solve the problem itself.
Mia Hazeldine-Ross is a senior international affairs major. Contact Mia at email@example.com.