Fun time! In legislatures nationwide, committees are meeting to participate in the great game of gerrymandering.
The object of the game is to maximize the clout of the ruling party and simultaneously to minimize the clout of the minority party.This year, as a consequence of the 1990 Census, eight states will gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives: California Florida Texas and Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia (one each).
Thirteen states will lose seats: New York Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio (2 each); and Massachusetts, New Jersey, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Iowa, Kansas and Montana (one each).
The drawing of new district lines means pain. Excruciating pain. The awful prospect is that in some instances, a Democratic state legislature will redistrict a Republican out of existence. Or vice versa.
But the probabilities are that Republicans will see much more vice than versa. This is because Democrats gained control of state senates in Arizona, Montana, Nevada and Washington. They gained control of houses in Kansas and Indiana.
Democrats now control both chambers in 31 states. Republicans control both chambers in only five: Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and New Hampshire.
Democrats are now primed to jigger not only congressional districts but state legislative districts as well.
In this perilous fix, Republicans have one faint hope. They might pray that Democrats make such pigs of themselves, in their eagerness to gain political advantage, that they wind up in federal court.
In this regard it is instructive to recall a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1986. This was the story. In 1981, Indiana Republicans held the governor's office and controlled both houses of the Legislature. Following the census of 1980, it was time to draw new lines.
A conference committee was created, composed entirely of Republican members. The committee conducted its sessions in secret. No Democrats were allowed to participate in any way.
Under the revised boundaries, blacks, union members, farmers and white suburbanites had been so skillfully manipulated that Republicans stood poised to take command for years to come.
Democrats understandably were outraged. (It is immaterial that they had pulled the same shenanigans themselves a decade earlier.) They went to court.
The Democratic plaintiffs raised a novel argument: Political minorities are like racial minorities. It is just as unlawful, they said, to discriminate against Democrats as it is to discriminate against blacks. The state of Indiana argued furiously that the lawsuit involved a wholly political question beyond the reach of a federal judge.
On June 30, 1986, the Supreme Court spoke. It spoke in a garbled tongue. Justices O'Connor, Burger and Rehnquist rode off in one direction. Powell and Stevens rode in another. The others stayed home.
But out of the babel there emerged a new constitutional principle: Charges of egregious gerrymandering do indeed present a "justiciable controversy," which is to say that judges may get into the act.
In the case at hand, however, the lower court had not enforced a sufficient standard of proof. And anyhow, by 1986 it was clear that the Republican conspiracy had backfired. Indiana Democrats had survived the rejiggering.
This year the rule on personal fouls is slightly changed. It is OK to be rough - but hey, you Democrats, don't pile on.