Wait, All of a Sudden, Partisan Redistricting Is Unconstitutional? Now?

by Jim Geraghty

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Not everything we dislike in this world violates the Constitution. Or at least, there used to be a separation between the merely annoying or disagreeable and the unconstitutional. But now the Supreme Court is asked to weigh in on everything — including whether it’s fair that Democratic-leaning voters cluster closely together in urban legislative districts.

The Supreme Court has regularly — and increasingly — tossed out state electoral maps because they have been gerrymandered to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

But the justices have never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering — when a majority party draws the state’s electoral districts to give such an advantage to its candidates that it dilutes the votes of those supporting the other party.

A divided panel of three judges in Wisconsin, though, decided just that in November. It became the first federal court in three decades to find that a redistricting plan violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections because of partisan gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court could announce as soon as Monday that it is either affirming or reversing the lower court’s decision, or, more likely, accepting the case for full briefing and arguments in the term that begins in the fall.

As Wisconsin Republicans point out, if their redistricting model is unconstitutional, so it that of about one third of the states. I suppose we should give one Democrat leading this effort a little credit for self-awareness:

Schultz’s Democratic partner in the Fair Elections Project, former state senator Tim Cullen, added that he constantly hears from audiences that if his party had been in charge of the process, it would have done the same thing Republicans did.

“And, of course, the answer to that is Democrats probably would have done the same thing. But that doesn’t make it right,” he said.

How quickly we forget: Careful redrawing of district lines to maximize a political advantage was a big part of launching the career of Barack Obama:

Like every other Democratic legislator who entered the inner sanctum, Obama began working on his “ideal map.” Corrigan remembers two things about the district that he and Obama drew. First, it retained Obama’s Hyde Park base — he had managed to beat Rush in Hyde Park — then swooped upward along the lakefront and toward downtown. By the end of the final redistricting process, his new district bore little resemblance to his old one. Rather than jutting far to the west, like a long thin dagger, into a swath of poor black neighborhoods of bungalow homes, Obama’s map now shot north, encompassing about half of the Loop, whose southern portion was beginning to be transformed by developers like Tony Rezko, and stretched far up Michigan Avenue and into the Gold Coast, covering much of the city’s economic heart, its main retail thoroughfares, and its finest museums, parks, skyscrapers, and lakefront apartment buildings. African-Americans still were a majority, and the map contained some of the poorest sections of Chicago, but Obama’s new district was wealthier, whiter, more Jewish, less blue-collar, and better educated. It also included one of the highest concentrations of Republicans in Chicago.

“It was a radical change,” Corrigan said. The new district was a natural fit for the candidate that Obama was in the process of becoming. “He saw that when we were doing fund-raisers in the Rush campaign his appeal to, quite frankly, young white professionals was dramatic.”

Obama’s retired and doesn’t need this practice anymore, so I guess we can ban this now.

The Outlook on the Seemingly Eternal Georgia Special House Election Runoff

I spoke with Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, about a variety of topics Friday but perhaps the most interesting comment was his assessment of the runoff election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, now officially the most expensive House race in American history and eight days away from completion.

“The race is effectively tied, a jump ball,” Reed said, noting that one poll had Democrat Jon Ossoff ahead by seven points and another had Republican Karen Handel ahead by two, and adding he didn’t have reason to think one poll was more accurate than another.

One of the reasons that the race as grown so expensive is that this is a high-stakes race where the runoff is well into its second month. Republicans have controlled the seat for nearly four decades, but Ossoff fell just short of winning the 50 percent necessary to avoid the runoff on April 18. More than 75,000 early votes have been cast in the runoff so far; that’s ahead of the roughly 55,000 early ballots cast in the first round. That may reflect voter exhaustion with the runoff, as the television advertising has been relentless.

Reed said that his organization aims to contact roughly 100,000 voters in the district — twice by mail and three times by phone, and by the time the runoff is done, they expect to have knocked on 22,000 doors. The Faith and Freedom Coalition will also disperse 100,000 voter guides to churches in the district.

“It’s not Trump country,” Reed said of the district overall. “North Fulton, that’s our sweet spot: mega-churches, strip malls, and office towers. If we get our 100,000 voters out, we’re fine. The Left is coming; the question is, do our voters come out?”

After such an intense air war, there’s no harm in bringing in Vice President Mike Pence and using other national GOP figures in the closing days to hammer home the Handel campaign messages. “The race is nationalized at this point,” Reed said.

Reed said he doesn’t think the runoff is a useful measuring stick for the 2018 midterms. “Unless you can recreate $30 million in spending in each district, it’s hard to replicate,” Reed said, and the open-seat dynamic won’t be in place for most of the House races in 2018. “If Republicans had [the previous longtime incumbent] Tom Price running, the race would not be competitive.”

Still, Reed was far from guaranteeing a victory for Handel. “Ossoff, he’s a very good candidate — he’s done well in the debates and stays on message,” Reed said. “No matter what the polls say, you should always run like you’re behind. We are today where the Democrats were in 2009 and 2010” — meaning that the opposition party, suddenly finding itself with no control of anything in Washington, is fired up and the majority party is in danger of complacency.

Sunday Liam Donovan made a related point: Ossoff is running strong in part because his central message is attacking both parties on “wasteful spending” — something I would contend is pretty conservative argument. Will Democrats accept their House members running on a message like this in 2018? Can the average Democratic challenger win a primary with a message like that when the party’s grassroots are full of anti-Trump fury?

Today on NRO, Blake Seitz writes, “Any Democrat [who] is polling ahead of a Republican in this slice of suburbia should be a firebell in the night for establishment-GOP leaders. Having been reduced to rubble during the Obama years, Democrats are reemerging in unexpected places. The cracks of a populist–cosmopolitan split with national implications may be widening in the suburbs.”

Ask Not for Whom the Sponsor Boycott Tolls, It Tolls for Thee

Remember those attempts to organize boycotts against conservative talk-show hosts? You think folks on the left are going to regret this approach?

Kathy Griffin lost her endorsement deals, including her gig of offering off-color and hideously unfunny antics on New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper on CNN. The network also cut ties with Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American scholar who was the host of the network’s weekly show Believer, after he offered a series of profane Tweets about Trump.

The advice about Twitter applies to the president and his critics as well. Not every thought needs to be expressed to the world. Everybody gets mad, just about everybody fumes and lashes out and says things they regret; it’s just that now with modern technology, our angriest, most impulsive thoughts can be communicated to the world, instantly. Self-control is the new coin of the realm.

In other Trump-critic news, it turns out that corporate America is increasingly wary of associating itself with assassination chic.

New York’s Public Theater lost support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

The companies’ decisions came after days of criticism online and in right-leaning media outlets that was amplified by Donald Trump Jr., a son of the president, who appeared to call into question the theater’s funding sources on Twitter on Sunday morning.

“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” the company said in a statement on Sunday night.

“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” the company said. “We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”

Bank of America followed hours later, saying it would withdraw financial support from the production of Julius Caesar but would not end its financial relationship with the theater, which a spokeswoman, Susan Atran, said had lasted for 11 years.

“The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” Ms. Atran said. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”

Is metaphor not good enough anymore? Is it too much to ask that a theater just present a Shakespearean play about an ancient ruler and just let the audience draw their own comparisons to the rulers of today?

Or is perhaps one of the problems the fact that no one remembers the play? Caesar is a returning conquering hero well-known for his concern for the least fortunate, he turns down the offer of the crown three times, and the conspirators decide to assassinate him as a preemptive measure, not as a response to any terrible acts committed by Caesar himself.

Aren’t there other, clearer villains in Shakespeare that more accurately fit Trump in the minds of his critics? King Lear? Richard III? MacBeth? (He doesn’t really have a Lady MacBeth figure in his life, though.)

ADDENDA: National Review lost one of its own Friday, Alex Batey. Jack Fowler offers a tribute and Rich Lowry adds his own memories to the portrait. When you lose someone without warning, and out of the blue… it’s a good reminder to tell your loved ones that you love them. As the most philosophical one-liner in the history of SportsCenter declared, “he’s listed as day-to-day, but then again, aren’t we all?”

For those who can view CNN International, I’ll be on State of America with Kate Bolduan today at 2:30 Eastern.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty