U.S. Reps. John Tanner (D-TN), Mike Castle (R-DE), Allen Boyd (D-FL), Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Baron Hill (D-IN), along with U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) are joining with redistricting reform advocates to end gerrymandering - the political power grab that too often cripples Congress' ability to work together on bipartisan solutions.
They introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act at a Capitol Hill press conference with redistricting reform advocates and grassroots leaders, including Americans for Redistricting Reform. Tanner has sponsored similar legislation since 2005.
"We must reform the system so the people can elect their representatives instead of allowing politicians to select their constituents with computer software based on strictly political considerations," Congressman Tanner said. "When politicians draw district lines, it often favors political partisanship and self-protection over public interest. Gerrymandered districts breed partisanship and discourage Members of Congress from working across the aisle on real solutions to the challenges facing our country."
"The political center continues to disappear, and fewer Members are willing to work across the aisle," Congressman Castle said. "Instead we are seeing increased identification with political parties and issues driven and debated from the more extreme ideologies. Curbing this trend isn't impossible; we can make a difference with this legislation."
"When politicians carve up Congressional districts for partisan interests, democracy suffers," Congressman Cooper said. "Gerrymandering is backroom politics at its ugliest: it protects incumbents, increases partisanship and stifles the will of the people. The FAIR Act will solve these problems by putting decisions about district lines in the hands of unbiased judges."
"Gerrymandering should be a concern to all Americans," Sen. Johnson said. "Creating a fair and balanced way of representing the American people is something I'm proud to support."
The FAIR Act sets minimum national guidelines for states to follow in drawing Congressional district lines. A bipartisan commission in each state would draw that state's Congressional map exactly once every 10 years, following the release of new Census data. Districts would be drawn to adhere to the Voting Rights Act, equal population, geography and local boundaries. The legislation only affects Congressional districts and does not address district lines for state and local elections.
"Redistricting reform must occur in the 111th Congress or the next round of gerrymanders will begin anew in the wake of the 2010 Census," said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center and Program Administrator of Americans for Redistricting Reform. "The current system is a terrible disservice to the citizens of this country and a gross distortion of the democracy envisioned by the founding fathers for the legislative branch. The time to fix this system is now. It will be too late if we wait for the inevitable public outrage that will follow the next wave of gerrymanders. The time to act is now."
Modern gerrymandering - the art of drawing creative district boundaries to benefit a candidate or political party - dates back to the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Carr, a case that originated in Shelby County, Tennessee, Tanner said. Shelby County Quarterly Court Chairman Charles Baker, originally from Millington, Tennessee, sued the State of Tennessee over unequal representation in the state legislature. Baker argued that Shelby County, as a metropolitan area, was underrepresented compared to Tennessee's rural communities.
The Supreme Court ruled in Baker's favor, setting the precedent for the judicial branch to insert itself into the issue of representational mapping. This eventually led to other similar rulings, such as the "one person, one vote" principle.
"'One person, one vote' is important for our representative democracy, but over the years, professional politicians have overreached in redistricting," Congressman Tanner said. "Politicians choosing their constituents shuts voters out of the process."