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November 25, 2005

Alito on gerrymandering

Before:
Tx

After:
Pagecgd109_tx2

The Washington Post has a frustratingly "meta" story about the rumors about Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito's attitudes towards reapportionment cases like Baker v. Carr.

Here's the substantive information I was able to sift out of the gossip:

In 1985, when Alito was applying for a political appointment in the Reagan administration, he wrote that he disagreed with decisions by the Warren Court in the 1960s involving "reapportionment." Those rulings required electoral districts to have equal populations and helped ensure greater representation of urban minorities.

Those 20-year-old words are highly inflammatory to civil rights groups marshaling forces against President Bush's choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But the White House and a key Republican ally this week were spreading the word that Alito has privately assured senators he has no intention of overturning the Warren Court's reapportionment precedents. Democrats, for their part, refuse to say what, if anything, Alito has told them on the subject. [...]

In Alito's case, the question revolves around what, if anything, he told senators about his views on Baker v. Carr, a 1962 case that gave federal courts the authority to review legislative redistricting, and Reynolds v. Sims, a case two years later that fundamentally altered political representation in the United States by ensuring that voters in rural areas had no more power than voters in denser urban areas. [WaPo]

Baker v. Carr upheld the federal government's right to intervene when state and local governments' (re)districting policies violated citizens' constitutional rights. Those who followed Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting scam may feel their Spidey Senses starting to tingle.

[Senator Joe] Biden singled out Alito's mention of reapportionment as cause for special concern. "The fact that he questioned abortion and the idea of quotas is one thing," Biden said. "The fact that he questioned the idea of the legitimacy of the reapportionment decisions of the Warren court is even something well beyond that." [Invest Bus Daily]

If Alito is skeptical about those 1960s reapportionment decisions today, he's no moderate. They were controversial at the time, but it was radically conservative to question them in back in 1985.

Update: In a nice turn of phrase, Nathan Newman describes Alito's views on reapportionment as "radically retrograde."

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..."Alito on Gerrymandering." I mention the title because I believe that it misses the point entirely. The issue, as far as I can tell, isn’t gerrymandering or reapportionment; it’s federalism. [Read More]

Comments

Excellent work up on this. The more I read about Alito, the more I dislike him. He'll probably get the nod but I just don't think we need a conservative philosopher type on the court. At this point, we need a moderate to balance things a bit.

When it comes to reapportionment, what's to be against? We already have non-reapportioned representation. It's called the Senate!! Alito's position makes virtually no sense to me.

Questioning Baker v. Carr is sort of the constitutional-law equivalent of questioning gravity. I have a feeling that if Alito stepped off the roof of the Supreme Court, he'd fall to earth and be crushed. The Senate must obey the law of gravity.

Lindsay, the map you've got up shows the Texas congressional districts before DeLay's mid-decade redistricting. Here (though it takes forever to load) is the post-redistricting map. Note, for instance, the district between District 17 in your map, which looks kind of sane, and District 18 on Delay's map (the one snaking around Lubbock and Abilene), which looks like someone dropped a glass sheet and did a lousy job of putting it back together.

And questioning reapportionment is totally insane no matter what your feelings on gerrymandering. More like a brief for rotten boroughs.

If Alito is skeptical about those 1960s reapportionment decisions today, he's no moderate. It was radically conservative to question them in back in 1985.

And if a senator tries to nail his Jello to the wall, he'll say he's changed his thinking. But isn't the fact that this was a radical position 20 years ago more an indicator of how far toward the extreme the discourse has shifted?

What I find so striking is that he seems to be sticking to a number of positions that were radical in the 80s--there is no 4th amendment as applied to cops, Princeton should be the province of white male offspring of Ivy alums, when I said 'recuse myself' I meant 'after getting caught' are a few examples. And unless I'm missing it, there has been little conversation in the MSM about how radical this guy is.

Which raises the question, Who moved my mainstream jurisprudence?

Thanks, Matt. I've got "before" and "after" pictures up now.

And questioning reapportionment is totally insane no matter what your feelings on gerrymandering.

Aren't gerrymandering and failure to reapportion just two sides of the same coin? In Baker the issue was failure to redistrict to reflect demographic changes. In Texas, the boundaries were redrawn to make sure that the map didn't reflect the demographics. Both cases violated the one person, one vote principle.

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