In early 2011, new population figures will be released by the U.S. Census Bureau. This information will be used by the State Legislatures across America to help them create not only new Congressional Districts in all of the United States, but new House of Representative and Senate Districts in every State Legislature as well. Typically, the formulation of new redistricting plans at the state and congressional level fall to the state legislatures, and, in certain states such as Mississippi where there is a history of civil rights conflicts, the redistricting plans must be approved as well either by the U.S Department of Justice or the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
This redistricting process takes place every ten years in the United States because, pursuant to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, legislative and congressional district boundaries must be drawn according to the “one man, one vote rule”, which means that all such districts within a state must be roughly equal – not in size, but according to population. In other words, territorial integrity is a thing of the past, and gone are the days when a legislator would typically represent one or more counties in a rural area and another representative or senator would represent one county in a metropolitan area. This process is, of course, a departure from the concept adopted by our founding fathers when they created the U.S. Constitution. In the Federal system, the number of Congressmen representing a single state is based roughly on that State’s population. On the other hand, each state, regardless of population, elects two United States Senators.
Most experts and constitutionalists agree that the “one man, one vote’ reapportionment guidelines handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court have had some positive results. Deeply entrenched regional control over the statewide political process has been replaced, in many instances, by elected officials that are more representative of the people they are pledged to serve.
Unfortunately, the one man, one vote reapportionment guidelines have also had negative effects. It is not unusual for disgraceful “gerrymandering” tactics to be employed in the extreme when a legislature is called upon to draw new district lines. And it is no secret that these new district lines are often drawn in total disregard to county or regional interests but solely because of racial and political power considerations.
Legislative and congressional districts in today’s world, as stated, have often been drawn to protect those presently in office, or to punish elected officials who are not in favor with the leadership or do not belong to the political party in power. The result has been a crazy-quilt maze of legislative and congressional districts across this country that ignores regional and county boundaries and is created for the sole purpose of maintaining power. A casual glance at legislative district lines in Mississippi and most states would surely confound most of the founding fathers and should concern even the most hardened and cynical politicians who fear for the welfare of the country.
There is a contorted legislative district in the Mississippi Legislature that is located on the Gulf Coast where it is said that one can throw stones into three states and the Gulf of Mexico without leaving the district. There must be a better way.
- ► 2011 (13)
- ► 2010 (28)