Ol’ Elbridge Gerry is back in the dock, his namesake “gerrymander” blamed for all that ails our “gridlocked” Congress. Some claim that the House districts drawn by state legislatures in 2011 have reached new heights (or lows) of partisanship. Critics deride the shape of the districts and object to their effect on control of the House. These claims are important, but they ignore the fact that state legislatures have since 1788 sought to influence the selection of members of Congress. The current, computer-aided gerrymandering is only the most recent battle in that perennial fight. When viewed as the “selection” of sympathetic House members by state legislatures, gerrymandering reflects deeper constitutional roots than its critics admit. The Framers of our Constitution granted state legislatures key roles in the election of the members of the Senate and House. Article I of the 1787 Constitution provided for the election of senators by vote of the state legislatures. Members of the House were to be chosen by the vote of the people of each state, but state legislatures would choose the “time, place, and manner” of such direct elections,” though Congress retained power to “alter” such state regulations.
In the early years of the Republic, some states chose creative means of election of members of the House. Some opted to elect their members “at-large” by a state-wide ballot, rather than by district. Others elected more than one individual from a single district.
Time (and Congress) gradually chipped away at state powers over Congressional elections. In 1842, Congress expressly prohibited multi-member districts, a ban that was re-affirmed in 1967 and endures today. At-large elections (for states with more than one member of the House) continued into the 20th century, though none exists today, and their validity under the 1967 act remains in doubt.
State legislative election of senators gave way in 1913. The 17th Amendment required the direct election of senators by the people. It was adopted in 1913, ratified by the requisite number of states (apparently content to cede the constitutional power of their legislatures). More recently, in 1995, the states were thwarted by the Supreme Court in their efforts to impose term limits on their federal representatives.
Full Article: Gerrymanders and state [s]elections | TheHill.