Gerrymandering goes to court

Get ready for what may be the granddaddy of all redistricting court cases.

Massachusetts takes pride in the many great things it has given to the country, from the first public school and college to the chocolate chip cookie, but one gift stands out as somewhat more ignoble: the gerrymander.

The idea of politicians drawing electoral districts in questionable ways was born here — or at least named here — when Gov. Elbridge Gerry manipulated a state Senate district in 1812 into such an oddly-shaped configuration that it was said to resemble a salamander.

Challenges to political gerrymandering have kept lawyers busy ever since.

The US Supreme Court has ruled against redistricting plans that give districts clout that is out of proportion to their population size, and it has overturned plans that appeared to deprive racial minorities of fair representation. But the court is now poised to wade into new territory by considering whether it’s permissible for lawmakers to draw district lines clearly for partisan advantage.

The case involves the redistricting of the Wisconsin State Assembly carried out after Republicans gained full control of state government there in 2010. A federal court threw out the map, ruling that it aimed to advantage Republicans and hurt Democrats. The state’s Republican attorney general appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

It is hardly surprising that redistricting challenges have turned to the question of whether partisan line-drawing is permissible, given how sharply divided the country has become along partisan lines.

“Wisconsin’s gerrymander was one of the most aggressive of the decade, locking in a large and implausibly stable majority for Republicans in what is otherwise a battleground state,” redistricting expert Thomas Wolf, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, told Reuters. “It’s a symptom of politics going haywire and something that we increasingly see when one party has sole control of the redistricting process.”

Weighing in with an op-ed in today’s Globe is Harvard Law School professor Charles Fried. Fried, a Republican who served as solicitor general in the Reagan administration, takes a decidedly nonpartisan stance in arguing strongly that the high court ought to reject Wisconsin’s appeal. “The lower court got it right,” he says of the earlier ruling against the starkly partisan redistricting map.

Under the new map, Fried says, Republicans gained control of 60 percent of the seats in the Wisconsin Assembly, despite the state’s close to even split of Democrats and Republicans and the fact that Republicans received less than 49 percent of the vote in 2012 statewide election.

Fried says partisan gerrymandering has long been defended under the “circular argument” that redistricting is a political process handled by politicians and should therefore benefit the political party in charge.

“Partisan gerrymandering systematically allows a one-time legislative majority to draw maps that nearly ensure they retain political power, irrespective of whether the citizenry votes differently in subsequent elections, in a wholly unequal and unrepublican manner,” writes Fried, who serves on the board of the legal center that brought the suit challenging Wisconsin’s redistricting.

Some states have looked to address the issue of partisan gerrymandering by taking redistricting out of the hands of state legislatures and appointing nonpartisan commissions to handle the task. As critics of legislatively drawn districts have repeatedly pointed out, leaving politicians in charge turns representative democracy on its head by effectively allowing elected officials to choose their voters rather having voters choose their representatives.

Efforts in Massachusetts to take redistricting out of the Legislature’s hands have gone nowhere over the years. Given our deep reverence for history, lawmakers have undoubtedly been motivated solely by a wish to honor the memory and legacy of Gov. Gerry.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The state budget passed by legislators on Friday includes some, but not all, of Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposals to reform Medicaid, leaving business leaders angry that employers are being hit with new assessments while lawmakers left out proposals aimed at curbing Medicaid costs. (Boston Globe) The budget includes none of the Senate’s revenue raising measures — a tax on Airbnb rentals, a raid of a horse racing fund fueled by casino tax dollars, and a trimming of the film tax credit. (State House News) Even as he briefed reporters on the budget, Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, the House’s top budget official, gave a plug for a higher tax on marijuana. (CommonWealth)

Ron Chimelis, a columnist for The Republican, says we’re not getting what we paid for with the Legislature. A Boston Herald editorial says House and Senate leaders can justify passing a budget that none of the members have read because the “bobbleheads” will follow them anywhere.

Rep. Sheila Harrington, a Republican from Groton, explains why she went from opponent to supporter of transgender rights. (Lowell Sun)

The Legislature has again shortchanged state payments for lawyers who take on cases on behalf of indigent clients, a practice leading lawmakers say should stop — but which keeps happening. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Chelsea is the first municipality in the US to have adopted a simple, but powerful, model implemented widely in Canada: Having various social service organizations, police, and other advocacy groups meeting regularly to coordinate and share information on individuals with addiction problems and other issues who need to be connected with resources. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Donald Trump Jr., brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, met at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton just weeks after Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination. (New York Times)

You can’t make this up: President Trump, facing fresh scrutiny about how seriously he pressed Russian president Vladimir Putin over Russian interference in the US election, suggested instead in a Sunday tweet that the US and Russia should launch a joint cyber security initiative.  By Sunday night he essentially retracted the idea in the face of blistering bipartisan condemnation. (Associated Press).  Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said it was “not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard but it’s pretty close.” (Newsweek) The New Republic said of the Trump-Putin meeting on Friday as “collusion is happening in plain sight.”

Challenging Trump, California Gov. Jerry Brown announces a global climate summit. (Governing)

Democrats continue to pound the faltering Republican health care bill, which even Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell concedes is in trouble. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Thrown off course: Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year, sustained minor injuries when he was thrown from a bicycle when it hit a pothole in Stow during a training ride for next month’s Pan-Mass Challenge. (Boston Globe)

Moves by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to boost her campaign staffing are early signs of a 2020 presidential run, say experts claiming 20/20 foresight. (Boston Herald)

A Globe editorial calls a state law — currently being challenged in court — that requires residents to register to vote at least 20 days before an election “hopelessly outdated.”

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Since January, at least 130 homes have sold for more than $1 million on the South Shore with five towns — Cohasset, Hingham, Milton, Scituate, and Duxbury — accounting for 98 of those. (Patriot Ledger)

Fall River officials, who had made some overtures to try to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to relocate to the Spindle City, are now cool to the idea. (Herald News)

For those folks of a certain age who remember the Mill Hill Club in Yarmouth, it’s reemerging as a senior living community. It’s unclear if they still have the mechanical bull. (Cape Cod Times)

Tourism-related businesses on Cape Cod and the Islands are struggling to keep up as a new restrictions on the H-2B seasonal visa program leave them shorthanded. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Some elite prep schools in Massachusetts are leading an effort to revamp high school transcripts away from grade point averages and toward a summary of students’ mastery of various important skills. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Health Policy Commission puts on hold the merger of Partners HealthCare and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. (Boston Business Journal)

One byproduct of the state’s opioid crisis: Many newborns are facing opioid withdrawal. (CommonWealth)

TRANSPORTATION

Very few commuter rail riders take the replacement bus service over the weekend on the Newburyport/Rockport Line. (Salem News)

State officials are forecasting delays of as much as 40 minutes on the Turnpike as the Commonwealth Avenue bridge in Boston is replaced. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Kathryn R. Eiseman, a critic of building more natural gas pipelines into the region, sees the invisible hand of regional power grid guru Gordon van Welie in the continued push for more natural gas. (CommonWealth)

Entergy is seeking to avoid installing federally mandated cybersecurity software at Pilgrim nuclear power plant in its final year-and-a-half of operation despite reports of hackers invading power company systems around the country. (Cape Cod Times)

Springfield is considering rolling out smaller trash barrels to reduce the waste stream and encourage recycling. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Teamsters chief whose members are accused of extorting a nonunion reality television show has indicated he will not answer questions, or plead the Fifth Amendment, if called to testify. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

The News Media Alliance, a coalition of major news outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Hearst Newspapers, and GateHouse Media among others, is seeking Congressional approval to bargain collectively with internet giants such as Google and Facebook for a larger chunk of the advertising pie. (New York Times)