Ciboski: Gerrymandering

Oct 3, 2018

President Lyndon B. Johnson working with Joseph Califano, 1968
Credit Yoichi Okamoto /

Joseph A. Califano, who has spent 30 years in Washington serving at the Pentagon, on the White House staff, and in the Cabinet as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, and as an advisor to presidents cites gerrymandering--which is the manipulation of political boundaries in the drawing of legislative districts intended to give a political party a numerical voting advantage--as a "preeminent cause of congressional crippling" in his most recent book titledĀ Our Damaged Democracy.

Close political observers note the effects of gerrymandering, especially at the time of congressional and state legislative elections. Califano notes that President Lyndon Johnson often complained about having to beg for money from folks who all want something, so in 1966 Califano urged Johnson to recommend public financing of presidential and congressional campaigns. President Johnson's political attenae rose, and he immediately says there are about 100 of the 435 members in the house who run without formidable electoral opposition, and if there is public financing, many will face serious opponents in running for reelection, so the House members will never vote for public financing of their elections. He accepted public financing of presidential campaigns. Today, about 400 House members seek relection without formidable political opposition.

Redistricting is a political act. The late Justice Felix Frankfurter cautioned the Supreme Court that if it decided decisions related to redistricting that it was entering a "political thicket."

In 2004, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that he had not seen a "workable standard" that would be decisive when the tactics of gerrymandering had crossed a constitutional line with partisan gerrymandering.