Congressional Redistricting Reform Without Real Change

Representative John Tanner (D-TN) called for redistricting reform in each of the past three Congresses, but he is now scaling back his goal. Tanner’s previous bills would have created a bipartisan commission to control Congressional redistricting in each state. His new proposal merely requires state legislators to post their plans online for 10 days and hold one public hearing before final adoption.

Congressman John Tanner

Representative Tanner’s earlier proposals, such as the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2009, would have significantly reduced the role of state legislators in the actual creation of Congressional districts. Tanner sought to establish strict qualifications for serving on the redistricting commissions, including the requirement that an individual “did not hold public office or run as a candidate for election for public office…at any time during the 4-year period ending on the December 31 preceding the date of appointment.”

Representative Tanner also sought to create a bipartisan Congressional redistricting panel in each state – though not an independent panel. The panel would have been created by an equal number of appointments by the top two parties in both houses of the state legislature (or the single house in a unicameral legislature). Although state politicians could not serve on the panel, they still had the power to select a significant portion of the panel under Tanner’s former plan. Such panels did not completely separate state governments from the redistricting process. Moreover, Section 4C of the 2009 bill maintained that “after receiving any redistricting plan…the legislature of a State may approve…[or].. reject the plan.” Representative Tanner’s proposal stood to limit incumbent influence in the redistricting process, though it never would have established a fully independent system.

Both Democratic- and Republican-controlled Congresses blocked the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act. In 2005, when Tanner first authored the bill as H.R. 2642, the Republican Congress refused to hold a hearing or a vote. The 2007 version fared no better in the Democratic-controlled House. And in 2009, a Democratic House again refused to hold a hearing or vote on Representative Tanner’s last call for the bipartisan redistricting commission.

In 2005, Tanner was joined by 46 Democratic and 2 Republican cosponsors. The Redistricting Act of 2007 had similarly one-sided support: 32 of the 34 cosponsors were Democrats.  The trend continued in 2009, when 26 of the bill’s 27 cosponsors were Democrats. That year, Michael Castle (R-DE) was the only GOP Member of Congress to cosponsor the bill.

Tanner’s new proposal would have no impact on control of the line-drawing process. While he denounced the current system of redistricting to The Tennessean as “the politicians choos[ing] their voters instead of the other way around,” his new reforms offer no remedy. Tanner has effectively conceded that Congress will make no significant change to redistricting in the 2011 cycle, and his impending retirement at the end of 2010 further dims the hopes that Congress will enact redistricting reform anytime soon.

h/t The Tennessean

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