It has become clear that the only way to deal with the most serious economic issues facing our country—inequality, underemployment, wage stagnation—is not just to elect a Democrat as president in the November elections but to completely destroy the Republican Party. To do so, we will have to think beyond particular candidates and specific elections. We will have to think more radically, to propose more fundamental reforms. The Constitution of 1787 offers far too many nooks and crannies in the cobwebbed architecture of our political system in which Republicans can hide out and bide their time before attempting another hostile takeover of our democracy. Because the founders-approved option of amending the Constitution is, for the time being, unavailable to us, we will have to figure out ways of amending it without formally amending it, in order to end the artificially enhanced prominence of a party that has been so malignant in its current form.
First, we need a plan to immediately end the gerrymandering of congressional districts. Without taking this step, there could be no hope of returning the people’s chamber to the people’s hands. If we wait until after the next census, in 2020, it will be too late. By then, even if the Democrats win by a landslide in 2016, the GOP will have returned.
For starters, if they do not take back the House of Representatives in the fall, Democrats should file lawsuits in the courts arguing that the gerrymandering of congressional districts is a violation of the Constitution, which nowhere explicitly confers on the states the power to gerrymander, or even to create congressional districts. (One section of federal law, 2 U.S.C. 2c, may do so, but it, too, says nothing about gerrymandering.) The states cannot claim the power under the 10th Amendment, which “reserves” powers that the states would have had prior to adoption of the US Constitution. The states cannot logically be said to have had the power to organize their delegations to a body that did not yet exist.
In past attempts to end gerrymandering, Democrats have practically tried to lose. They haven’t really wanted to end the practice in its entirety—only a particular GOP-favored form of it that is derided as “going too far.” This is because many Democrats in the House, even when they are in the chamber’s minority, have ridiculously safe seats thanks to gerrymandering. This is important for progressives to understand: It hasn’t only been the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court that has kept gerrymandering in place. It’s also because our own side keeps making incoherent arguments that “some” gerrymandering is okay. If we were able to get rid of gerrymandering entirely, any consideration of voter registration data in drawing up boundaries of congressional districts would be impermissible. There would not be the current need to show “intent,” much less the requirement of proving that one party has been “shut out” from representation, whatever that means.
It used to be argued that there was no fair alternative to gerrymandered districts. But that is no longer true. California, Arizona, Iowa, and New Jersey not only discourage partisan redistricting—as Florida does—but actually have procedures like independent or bipartisan commissions to ensure that it does not occur. For years we could not even imagine these alternatives. Now we have them—and we know they work.