Opinion: Thoughts on gerrymandering and Ga.’s Constitution

Georgia’s Gold Dome. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

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Georgia’s Gold Dome. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Georgia’s Constitution may provide a solution, given it mandates “impartial and complete protection” to persons and property within Georgia.

The U.S. Supreme Court has failed to protect the rights of voters to decide who represents them and their real community. Instead, this Supreme Court permits politicians in power to choose their own voters across made-up districts so they may stay in power.

Voting districts are no longer created to represent whole communities where voters actually live in cities, counties, or NPUs. They are drawn to decide in advance which party will win and to protect the party in power. Those who “win” in these districts are elected of the party, by the party and for the party. They do not represent any real community. Their loyalty and obligation is only to their party.

This is gerrymandering and both parties do it. In 2018, the Supreme Court decided that federal courts no longer have jurisdiction to protect voters to make choices for their own community. In cases where two states had drawn maps by one party to weaken the other, the court decided it lacks the power to stop these bipartisan efforts to protect political parties and not the voters or real communities. Instead, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote “that the solution” to partisan gerrymandering does not “lie with the federal judiciary.”

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Joe Bankoff

Credit: contributed

Joe Bankoff

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Joe Bankoff

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Well - what about using the “laboratories of democracy” - the 50 states - under their respective state constitutions? This is being explored in state lawsuits in places like Pennsylvania, Kansas and North Carolina. Consider the current (1983) Constitution of the State of Georgia:

Article I; Section I; Paragraph II. Protection to person and property; equal protection. Protection to person and property is the paramount duty of government and shall be impartial and complete. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.

In addition to “equal protection” of the laws, the Georgia Constitution requires Georgia to provide “impartial and complete protection” to persons and property within Georgia. These additional words impose additional limitations. Impartial and complete protection to person and property is made the state’s “paramount duty” under the Georgia Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court never decided that gerrymandering does not violate “equal protection.” It only ruled that it lacks the power to decide. In addition, the Georgia Supreme Court is not bound by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as to the meaning of the Georgia Constitution.

Voting districts in Georgia created by one party designed to weaken the power of voters in the other party are clearly not “impartial.” Georgia’s failure to draw voting districts that represent whole communities already recognized by the State of Georgia are neither “impartial” nor “complete” protection to the Georgia voters and their property within their communities.

Now is the time to address Georgia’s failure to provide equal voting power to all Georgia voters in the real communities where they actually live. Under Georgia’s Constitution, voting districts should be combinations of existing community units already recognized by the state (counties, cities, NPUs). Laws creating districts providing voters with “impartial and complete” protection as well as “equal protection of the law” as required by the Georgia Constitution cannot be drawn based on how people vote, in a deliberate effort to reduce their voting power.

Many “community based” districts in Georgia would still remain either “red” or “blue” based on where voters actually live. What would change is those elected would need to represent their whole community and not just voters of one party. This would create local accountability to real voters of real communities. If “all politics is local” - shouldn’t our politicians also be local?

Joe Bankoff is former chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech; former CEO, Woodruff Arts Center and a former partner at law firm King and Spalding.