Ask most Maryland Democratic leaders about partisan gerrymandering, and they’ll tell you it’s a horrible problem. They’ll say that is contrary to the principles of democracy, that it lets politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around and that it contributes to hyper-partisanship in Congress and state legislatures. Ask them to do something about it — as numerous good-government advocacy groups, editorial boards and Gov. Larry Hogan have done — and you’ll hear a different story. Taking the task of drawing congressional and legislative district lines out of the self-interested hands of Democrats in Maryland would amount to unilateral surrender, they say, and they have no interest in that unless Republicans start doing the same in the states where they have controlled the process for their own gain.
The latest developments in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Wisconsin’s gerrymander — which has allowed Republicans to control the State House out of all proportion to their share of the vote — begin to crack that argument. The state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, and its GOP legislative leaders haven’t given up their defense of the maps. But in recent days, some prominent Republicans have, arguing that even if gerrymandering has helped their own party control most state houses and the House of Representatives, it is still wrong and must be stopped.
Current and former Republican office holders including Bob Dole, Alan K. Simpson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich and John McCain have signed amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to reject the Wisconsin maps and to declare the type of gerrymandering it represents unconstitutional. Senator McCain’s brief, submitted jointly with Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, makes the case that a 2004 Supreme Court decision eliminated any fear partisans had that gerrymandered maps would be subject to court challenges, and, buoyed by copious “dark money” from special interest groups, they took full advantage. The result, they write, is an increasingly disillusioned electorate represented by ever more partisan officials who fail to represent their constituents’ true interests.