Results tagged “Redistricting”

September 17, 2012

Levitt2.jpgBy Associate Professor Justin Levitt

Every four years, the presidential election contest dominates the news, bringing with it not only daily policy and political scuffles, but plentiful skirmishes over the rules for conducting elections and persuading the electorate. Every 20 years, the presidential election roughly coincides with the decennial redistricting process, as political lines are drawn to restructure representation across the country. The year 2012 represents one of those comet-like convergences, where the full infrastructure of democracy is not only buffeted by winds of change but becomes suddenly, fleetingly, salient -- and new and old media alike examine every development in painstaking detail.

In such an environment, just as vulcanologists flock to the latest eruption, election law scholars tend to find the daily developments irresistible. We rationalize the engagement by understanding that we can offer context and texture and a bit of both legal and historical perspective. But when we're most honest with ourselves, perhaps it's just that we want to be where the action is, in a field to which we've devoted our professional lives. Your Loyola election law faculty aren't immune -- both Jessica Levinson and I have attempted to engage the day-to-day in a way that we hope contributes more good than harm.

But perhaps particularly in the swirl of an election season, it's also tremendously useful to be able to step back as well. Which is why I'm grateful for two opportunities this past week to think more deeply about election law scholarship that's not dependent on yesterday's headline.

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February 27, 2012

Levitt2.jpgBy Associate Professor Justin Levitt

The lines of our election districts lie at the core of our democracy. They decide whose voices are represented, and to what degree. New York's districting process rarely serves as a model of civic virtue. But now, there's an unusual chance for change.

In Albany, legislators choose their voters more than the other way around. It is a Twilight Zone process; incumbents purport "To Serve the Public," and cycle after cycle, we discover it's a cookbook that they're using.

Where legislators are in charge of drawing their own lines, there is a natural tendency to choose private and partisan self-interest over the public interest. If you had the capacity to ensure your own job security, no matter how well you performed ... wouldn't you do the same?

Both Democrats and Republicans have used this process to their advantage, and to the detriment of voters of every stripe, in New York no less than elsewhere. The current process is bogged down as incumbents bicker over who can grab more for themselves. Governor Cuomo has boldly tried to break the cycle, by threatening a veto of the legislature's latest, something predecessors have been unwilling to do.

The veto threat is right. But maybe, just maybe, not the veto itself. A veto would likely throw matters definitively to the courts, which is a slow and expensive route -- and involves a responsibility the courts don't want. Just look at the ongoing mess in Texas.

A veto is also a one-time answer. It is essentially a spanking -- it stings, but it's temporary, and will not ultimately stop the bad behavior when Cuomo is no longer governor.

The meaningful veto threat, however, provides abundant leverage. If Cuomo used that leverage to have the courts draw maps now, it would consign us to repeat the same nonsense in 10 years. Instead, he could look to the future.

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January 12, 2012

levinson.jpgBy Visiting Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson


This piece originally appeared on KCET.org.

Redistricting seems to be the one governmental process that can unite members of both aisles. And by unite I mean join together in fighting each other tooth and nail. I have previously detailed the numerous fights -- both at the courthouse and in the ballot box -- surrounding the newly drawn state legislative lines. Now comes word that a fight is brewing on the local level as well.

Valley leaders are asking for the creation of new city council maps. Specifically, representatives for the San Fernando Valley are urging the creation of six districts completely contained in the Valley. These districts would not stretch over the hill. Currently there are seven city council districts in the Valley. So why would they want fewer districts? Two of those districts stretch over the hill into West Los Angeles and Hollywood.

The creation of six districts totally contained in the Valley would therefore increase the voice of those living, as we say in L.A., "over the hill." This strategy makes sense, at least to those living in the Valley. A representative who has to consider the needs of constituents on both sides of the hill would likely be be less attuned to the needs of constituents in the Valley than someone representing a district wholly contained in the Valley.

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September 8, 2011

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Justin Levitt, Associate Professor of Law, testified in Washington, D.C. before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

The hearing examined new state voting laws that threaten to suppress turnout nationwide.

Professor Levitt is an expert on election law, and author of A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting. He also launched the website, All About Redistricting.

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August 16, 2011

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This op-ed was originally published by KCET.

By Visiting Associate Clinical Professor Jessica A. Levinson

Well, at least when it comes to picking the next leader of the free world. In a previous post, I queried, "When it Comes to Presidential Politics, Does California Even Matter?" Democrats count on (take for granted) the Golden State and its 55 electoral votes--one-fifth of the total votes needed to win the presidency. Candidates visit our state to raise money, but not much else. Presidential campaigns are won and lost in the battle ground states. California is decidedly not such a state.

Read the complete post at KCET.org.

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July 18, 2011

This op-ed was originally published by the levinson.jpg Daily Journal.

By Visiting Associate Clinical Professor Jessica A. Levinson

The political blood sport, commonly known as redistricting, hit a fever pitch on June 10, when California's newly-minted independent redistricting commission presented draft maps to the public.

Simply put, every 10 years we count how many people live here, and then we draw legislative lines according to that demographic information. While this may not sound particularly spicy, determining who draws district lines and how those lines are drawn evokes a legal and political struggle of epic proportions. Political wonks, voting rights attorneys, and interested members of the public know that where district lines are drawn can dictate the composition and balance of power in the state legislatures and Congress.

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 11, a Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-supported ballot initiative that took the power of drawing state legislative lines away from legislators. Instead of legislators drawing their own legislative lines, Proposition 11 provided that a 14-member independent redistricting commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four Independents would draw district lines for the State Assembly, state Senate, and Board of Equalization.

The oft-repeated purpose of Proposition 11 was to create a system in which the voters chose their legislators, and not the other way around. California has long been the poster child for gerrymandered districts, which reflect a legislator's desire to draw herself a safe district, but not necessarily one that best represents demographic realities. Looking at the last lines drawn by the Legislature in 2001 perhaps best elucidates this phenomenon. In that year, the Legislature accomplished two rarities. First, they agreed on something. Second, they were successful at their stated purpose.

In 2001, legislators agreed to what some call the "incumbency protection program." The Legislature drew lines with a focused purpose, to retain power and create safe elections free of a dirty word known as "competition." This plan was a rousing triumph. But for lawmakers forced out because of term limits, incumbents have sailed through the last decade with little fears of individuals known as challengers.

The problem, of course, with the incumbency protection plan is that while it is a boon for legislators, it may not be quite so beneficial for constituents. The population is best served when lines are drawn to keep so-called "communities of interest" together.

California voters, perhaps mindful of the last 2001 redistricting plan, and certainly distrustful of one of the least popular groups in the state - legislators - passed Proposition 20 in 2010. Proposition 20 essentially asked California's independent commission redistricting to draw congressional district boundaries in addition to the district boundaries for the State Assembly, state Senate, and Board of Equalization.

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July 14, 2011

Miller-McCune recently praised Associate Professor Justin Levitt's All About Redistricting website in the story, "Website Demystifies Redistricting":

The once-a-decade reshuffling mandated by the Constitution now has a comprehensive source that helps to explain its complex details.

Justin Levitt, an expert on election law and a professor at Los Angeles' Loyola Law School has launched All About Redistricting, an interactive website that helps the average person understand all the intricacies of redistricting. With redistricting being a hot topic, and its fairness routinely questioned, the launch of Levitt's website is particularly timely.

Read the full story.

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June 16, 2011

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Originally published in Politico June 14, 2011.

With ballooning deficits and substantial unemployment among the urgent problems confronting the states, many state legislatures spent their first days of the 2011 session attempting to restrictthe way that voters prove their identity at the polls.

Five states passed voter ID laws in 2011. The most stringent preclude citizens from voting a valid ballot unless they show specific documents. Opinion polls reveal that the public supports this idea. But those behind this effort have forgotten both their priorities and their obligation to safeguard the vote -- the most fundamental of constitutional rights -- not just for most U.S. citizens but for all.

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June 10, 2011

Washington Post political blogger Aaron Blake Tweeted of Associate Professor Justin Levitt's All About Redistricting website: "Want to know the latest on redistricting in a certain state? An AWESOME tool: http://bit.ly/kb6eTk."

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June 6, 2011

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Associate Professor Justin Levitt, a national expert on redistricting, has launched All About Redistricting, an online guide to the process of drawing electoral district lines. The site is at redistricting.lls.edu.

All About Redistricting explains state-by-state the intricacies of the process with easy-to-digest breakdowns of state rules, summaries of procedures and links to relevant state websites. A series of interactive maps (example at right) guide users through the process. Levitt, a prolific scholar whose works include A Citizens Guide to Redistricting, includes his analyses of everything from current litigation to reform initiatives. Redistricting is underway nationwide in a process that will continue through 2012.

redistricting_screengrab.jpg"This website is designed to be a one-stop easy-reference site for all sorts of redistricting information," said Levitt. "For each state's congressional and state legislative districts, we track the current status, describe who draws the lines and the rules for when and how the lines are drawn, and follow redistricting litigation from start to finish. Maps and charts quickly put the states in national context. And the site gathers other resources explaining how the process works now and how it might work in the future, all together in one place."

Levitt has served in various capacities for several presidential campaigns, including as the National Voter Protection Counsel in 2008. He coordinated the amicus response in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a Supreme Court challenge to a state's voter ID requirements. Prior to joining the Loyola faculty, he was counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Levitt also teaches Constitutional Law at Loyola Law School.

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December 14, 2010

Levitt2.jpg By Associate Professor Justin Levitt

For my own contribution to the "11 on '11" kickoff of the Loyola Law School blog, I'd like to focus on redistricting. Every 10 years, the electoral districts of local, state and federal representatives are redrawn to keep pace with population movement. This cycle begins again in just a few months, as the Census Bureau releases the results of the national Census. Redistricting will then flare across the national consciousness for a few short moments, leaving scholars and pundits the remainder of the decade to interpret for a confused public the import of the process for the electoral landscape. For observers of the political process, redistricting is much like the medieval reappearance of a decennial comet--only with a lot more litigation.

At least three developments merit special attention in 2011. All revolve around the role that we, the people, have in redistricting.

One: The first is our latest attempt to assert control over the process. In most jurisdictions, legislators are in charge of drawing their own district lines or the lines they hope to inhabit. Because the composition of a district can have a direct and substantial impact on an incumbent's job security, legislators are naturally tempted to pick and choose voters based on personal or partisan reward or punishment. Districts have been drawn to include prominent donors or exclude promising challengers, notably including then-state Senator Barack Obama. When practiced by insiders with a stake in the game, the process can be the most vicious of political bloodsports.

Six states, however, have handed the redistricting reins to individuals who are not themselves elected officials. California is the latest of these, with a 2008 ballot initiative establishing a citizens' commission to draw state legislative districts, and a 2010 sequel extending the commission's authority to congressional lines. Such commissions may be justified by their capacity to prevent the worst conflicts of interest; as I've written, however, they are not political panaceas, and if mishandled, risk substantial downside to accompany the potential upside. California's commission will begin its inaugural run in just a few months. Many eyes will be watching to see whether this commission presents a model--or a warning.

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October 15, 2010

GerrymanderingAssociate Professor Justin Levitt is featured prominently in the new movie Gerrymandering, starting its run this Friday at the Nuart Theater. I'm including some information on the film below, and you can find details about the theater here.

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