The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court thinks we're all pretty clueless.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts thinks were all just a bunch of numbskulls. We should prove him wrong.
During oral arguments in a gerrymandering case that could have far-reaching implications for the many states where the political party in power has abused their power, Roberts said that the issue of using computer programs and algorithms to rig voting districts in favor of one party was pretty much beyond the comprehension of the average person. As such, he said, if the court ruled against the Republican plaintiffs in the case, people would just attribute the ruling to partisanship, and say the court ruled the way it did because they are all just a bunch of liberal Democrats.
The case, Gill v Whitford, alleges that Republicans who controlled the state legislature in Wisconsin redrew voting districts to give themselves an advantage, a huge advantage it turns out. Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years, after the Census, and in most states it is the party in power in each state’s legislature that gets to determine where those crucial lines are drawn.
It isn’t just Republicans who play the gerrymandering game. Plenty of states controlled by Democrats have done the same. So while you may be a Republican in one state and see nothing wrong with your party getting an advantage, or a Democrat in another state and see nothing wrong with your party getting an advantage, you have to consider what might happen if the opposing party gained control of the state legislature and was able to effectively strip away your vote.
In the Wisconsin case, a lower court ruled in favor of those suing for the creation of new districts. The Supreme Court should uphold that lower court ruling.
It is unclear whether Roberts was exposing his own conservative bias in his weak attempt to grasp at straws and depict all of us as clueless dolts, or whether he truly believes we’re all idiots. "The intelligent man on the street is going to say that's a bunch of baloney," he said of the science behind Wisconsin’s gerrymandering.
Trouble is, the “intelligent man on the street,” – or intelligent woman on the street as the case may be – has for years been living in a society where you are basically reduced to a number or a statistic that can be manipulated quite easily in multiple ways.
That rewards card you use at the supermarket is collecting data on your purchases, which is why you tend to get more ads for the products you like. Visit a website featuring Disney vacations and for months you will see the ads pop up whenever you go online. Shop online at Amazon or other retailers and you immediately start getting promotions for related products, as well as emails saying “you liked that, perhaps you will like this as well.” Businesses large and small spend tons of money on marketing efforts to identify customers and target advertising directly at them.
And let’s not even get into the conversation about how the Russians manipulated millions of people by placing certain ads in certain locations around the country on Facebook or elsewhere with the expressed desire to sow dissention and create divisions, something that worked probably far better than they expected.
California recognized the problem of gerrymandering and took the power away from lawmakers, instead creating the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. A few other states have also moved in that direction or are considering such a move.
Need further proof of political gerrymandering stripping away your vote? The country is highly divided politically right now, but in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, probably 80 percent or more of the political districts are considered “safe” for the party in power. Great if you happen to be a member of that party. No so much if you aren’t.
At the end of the day, what this amounts to is politicians getting to pick who their voters are in the coming election. How many politicians do you think there are who will pick voters not likely to support them?
Gerrymandering strips away your right to determine, by your vote, who will represent you. It goes on far too much, by both parties, and it needs to stop.
The good news is that the same programs and algorithms that are used to create lopsided districts can be used to determine fair districts. And it is pretty easy, if you put different maps side by side, to see which is the fairest. Chief Justice Roberts might not think so, but even numbskulls like us can see that.
Hopefully, the other justices on the court think a little more highly of their fellow citizens, and will make Wisconsin politicians go back to the drawing board to come up with districts that don’t strip away the voting rights of so many citizens.
Jim lee is editor for Gatehouse Media Delaware. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.