Redistricting Case Could Profoundly Impact U.S. Democracy

David Sobelsohn Supreme Court Correspondent, Press Associates

A case argued before the Supreme Court October 3, Gill v. Whitford, could have profound ramifications not only for American workers, but for the future of American democracy.

In 2011, for the first time in over 40 years, Wisconsin Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. Armed with the 2010 census, sophisticated metrics, and the latest computers, the Republicans -- in secret -- set about redrawing legislative district lines.  

They rejected one map after another as too balanced, too fair to Democrats.  Finally, by packing most Democratic voters into just a few districts, and by scattering other Democrats into majority-Republican districts, the Republicans drew the most partisan map possible.

It worked. In the 2012 election, though most Wisconsin voters voted for Democratic candidates for the State Assembly, Republicans seized 60 of its 99 seats.

Republican legislative domination had a calamitous effect on workers’ rights. In 2015, the Wisconsin legislature enacted so-called “right to work” legislation, letting union nonmembers use union services -- collective bargaining and grievance settlement -- without paying for them, denying unions money they need for just such services.  

Then, in 2017, the legislature prohibited Wisconsin local governments from requiring their contractors to hire union workers, banning Project Labor Agreements on taxpayer-funded construction.  

Predictably, Wisconsin unions have suffered a precipitous drop in membership, to
8.1 percent of the state’s workforce -- a drop of 40 percent in just ten years. Membership
dues have fallen nearly 50 percent.

How could the U.S. Constitution permit this?  

In 1964, in its famous one-person, one-vote case, the Supreme Court recognized voting as a fundamental right and found vote dilution a violation of the 14th Amendment.  In 1976, the Supreme Court declared it a 1st Amendment violation for a state to discriminate, in public employment, on the basis of political affiliation.  

Logically, if it’s unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of political party, and if voting is a fundamental right, it should violate the Constitution to dilute the right to vote on the basis of political party.

But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” Gerrymandering -- in which, in effect, representatives choose their voters, instead of the other way around -- dates back at least to 1788. In 1812, a Massachusetts redistricting map, signed into law by Gov. Elbridge Gerry, so distorted one district's borders that, on the map, the district resembled a salamander. That inspired a Boston newspaper to coin the term “gerrymander.”  

Today, 37 state legislatures still draw their own district lines. Historically, convinced they couldn’t devise a "judicially manageable standard," U.S. courts have refused to overturn district maps approved by a state legislature.

But history proves only so much. The 19th century knew nothing of deep data-mining and high-speed computers. Under Wisconsin's current map, the legislature could have a large Republican majority for generations -- even if Wisconsin voters repeatedly vote for Democrats,
as they did in 2012.

At oral argument, several justices expressed alarm at the prospect of a persistent extreme disparity between the party voters support and the party elected to a legislative majority. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked, what becomes of our "precious right to vote" if election results are "preordained"?

Wisconsin Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin, and Erin Murphy, representing the state senate, both claimed the Supreme Court has no "workable standard" to identify unconstitutional gerrymanders.  But both attorneys, responding to a question from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- whose vote likely will determine the outcome -- conceded state law couldn't blatantly require district lines to advantage one particular party.

If so, as Justice Elena Kagan pointed out, it's just a question of intent. Courts frequently look for legislative intent – what lawmakers wanted to accomplish -- beyond the words of a law.

To Chief Justice John Roberts's concern about a flood of legal challenges, Justice Stephen Breyer proposed an easily applied requirement to cause most cases' quick dismissal: As in Wisconsin, did one political party control the entire reapportionment process?

Justice Sotomayor added that, in the Wisconsin case, every proposed test points in the same direction: This was the "most extreme map they could make." Paul Smith, the attorney for the Democratic voters who challenged Wisconsin’s map, added if the Supreme Court approves even this district map, after the 2020 census "you're going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering" so extreme that it "effectively nullifies democracy."

A decision is expected by spring of 2018.


Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Press Associates

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work