State Supreme Court wisely rejects gerrymandering attempts to dilute Republican strongholds, but unwisely embeds “competitiveness” as a valid redistricting criteria in the law.
By Seth Richardson
The purpose of the Republic, and its political division into sovereign states operating under a central government of expressly limited powers was intended to ensure that people are free to choose the social and political atmosphere in which they would like to live. The fundamental constitutional right of freedom of association, and it’s implicit companion, freedom of disassociation, are embodied in the concept that if one does not agree with the policies and politics of a particular state, one is free to travel to another state where the legislative climate is more salubrious to one’s needs and desires.
This was the original intent of the Founders, but it didn’t take long for the federal government to begin interfering in internal state matters to deny voters the right to “vote with their feet.” After more than 30 years of oftentimes-controversial bickering over the morality of Mormon polygamy in the East, Brigham Young and his band of Mormons fled Nauvoo, Illinois for the west, settling in the Salt Lake valley, hoping to found the state of Deseret in what was technically Mexican territory captured by the United States in the Mexican-American War.
Mormons simply wanted to be left alone to practice their religious beliefs in peace, but the government of the United States, for several reasons, including competing religious beliefs that polygamy was “sinful,” refused to abide by the principles the Founders embraced in creating a Constitutional Republic comprised of sovereign states where governance and law would best serve the people of an individual state by remaining close to the source of its power: the People. In 1862 Congress passed the Morrill Act, which outlawed polygamy, and which lead to open rebellion and warfare in Utah as Mormons fought to preserve their First Amendment religious rights in the face of implacable moral opprobrium and physical attack on the part of the federal government, which was intent on suppressing the practice at any cost. Utah and the Mormon church finally capitulated, at least on the surface, in 1890. But polygamy has endured in Utah, and elsewhere, despite the best efforts of state and federal regulators to interfere in religious practice and substitute their own moral and religious beliefs for those of the Mormons.
Since the beginning, the ideals of the Founders regarding political and social freedom through state sovereignty and the right of free association (and disassociation) have been progressively eroded by the ever-expanding usurpation of state sovereignty by the federal government, and the entirely unconstitutional notion that it is within the power of the central government to closely regulate the lives of individuals within the states. Worse, this oppressive notion has trickled down to the state and local level.
This is seen in the present attempts to reapportion the state that has just been rejected by the state Supreme Court. Democrats have been trying to insist that republican strongholds be divided up to create “competitive” districts, which is ProgressiveSpeak for “enhance Progressive inroads on conservative voting blocs.” In other words, court-approved gerrymandering.
Fortunately for us all the Colorado Constitution erects substantial barriers to gerrymandering attempts by either party by specifying that all districts shall be physically “as compact as possible.” Combined with constitutional requirements that “communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, and demographic factors, shall be preserved within a single district wherever possible,” Colorado has long resisted the sort of back-east and down-south gerrymandering that disenfranchises minorities or makes minorities out of geographic majorities in order to dilute their voting power.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that “[a]lthough reapportionment is not without political considerations, these considerations are not among the constitutional criteria, and the commission may not allow them to outweigh the constitutional criteria.” What this means is that “competitiveness” (which is to say the deliberate gerrymandering of districts to prevent or break up voting blocs) is actually an unconstitutional criteria for redistricting.
Or at least it was, until this week, when the liberal Supreme Court ignored the state Constitution and its own prior rulings in holding that “other nonconstitutional considerations, such as the competitiveness of a district are not per se illegal or improper.”
While the Court rejected the redistricting commission’s maps, it did so by holding that the redistricting did not pay proper attention to county boundaries, and it then inserted a knife straight into the heart of representative democracy by opening the door to “competitive” gerrymandering, if it can fit within the other constitutional constraints, which is nothing more than an unconstitutional elevation of minority political power intended to dilute the voting power of members of the public who have “voted with their feet” by moving to, and voting in districts and communities that best represent their political and social interests.
In the time of the Founders, if one did not like the political atmosphere of Virgina, one could move to New York or South Carolina to find communities and people of like mind and interest, and in doing so improve the chances that the majority opinion (within appropriate constitutional boundaries) would prevail and be preserved.
In contemporary Colorado we clearly see this effect at work by examining El Paso and Boulder counties. Boulder County is intensely liberal/progressive, to the point of being socialist or worse, and is so notorious in it’s bloc voting power that it’s a standing joke to refer to it as “The People’s Republic of Boulder.” Liberals and Progressives, granola-heads, Marxists, Communists and idealistic college students move to Boulder to enjoy both the great beauty and satisfying, if micromanaging and intrusive, political climate. As they have every right to do. We should never dream of trying to break up Boulder County to make it more “competitive” because to do so is to disparage the right of free association that brought people of like mind together in political harmony. If you don’t like Boulder’s politics, then move somewhere else. That’s what Thomas Jefferson would say.
On the other hand, people, including this writer, find that sort of liberal/progressive intrusiveness and bureaucratic arrogance and disdain for, in particular, private property rights, to be intolerable and a violation of our right to be free of obsessive and intrusive government bureaucracy, so we vote with our feet and move to places like El Paso County, where our political interests and needs are better respected and served. That is our right, and we should demand that it be respected as well.
This physical migration to find a salubrious political climate is the very essence of the fundamental structure of our nation from the very beginning. If you like liberty and Libertarian values and government, move to Wyoming or Idaho. If you like strict government control and central planning, move to California. It’s your constitutional right to do so.
But what the Democrats have attempted, and will certainly attempt again and again until they succeed, is to divide up El Paso County and other conservative strongholds in ways that marginalize the voting power of the people who moved and live here precisely because they like the conservative values and respect for liberty of their neighbors and wish to consolidate their political power here so that their values and beliefs will prevail, just as liberal/progressive values prevail in Boulder County. We must not allow them to do so, because that defies everything that the Founders, the U.S. Constitution, and our State Constitution stand for.
Given the recent Court ruling, there is now a dire need for a state constitutional amendment expressly prohibiting the use of “competitiveness” as a criteria in redistricting.
© 2011 Altnews