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Power and the People The U.S. Census and Who Counts

The Power of Redistricting

Shortly after the Decennial U.S. Census is conducted, each state redraws their congressional and legislative district boundaries. The process varies from state to state, with some states allowing the legislature to draw the lines, some states relying on a panel of judges, and others employing an independent commission, like California. Determining district boundaries has been challenging since the founding of the nation, because of the potential for gerrymandering, in which boundaries are manipulated by powerful groups to ensure continued influence. While gerrymandering has long been considered controversial, a 2019 Supreme Court case, Rucho v. Common Cause, bars federal courts from hearing cases on it.

Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.

– Rucho v. Common Cause, US Supreme Court, 2019

A Brief History of Reapportionment in California

Prior to 1990, the California Legislature reapportioned the state based on the most recent census, and the governor approved the new boundaries. In September 1991, following the inability of the California governor and legislature to agree on a reapportionment plan, the California Supreme Court appointed three special masters to propose a plan which was implemented in time for the June 1992 elections. Throughout the 2000’s, several attempts were made to put the power of redistricting into the hands of the people, not the state. In 2008, voters approved Proposition 11 to create a Citizen’s Commission to draw the reapportionment boundaries. This Commission, a mix of political party and independent representatives, redrew the lines shortly after the 2010 Census and will redraw the lines after the 2020 Census.

Before GIS and Google Maps

Prior to the widespread use of technology, those tasked with redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries had to use the tools available at the time: gas station maps and markers.

Of all times to abandon the Court's duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court's role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.

– Rucho v. Common Cause, US Supreme Court, 2019