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Reapportionment Wars: Party, Race, and Redistricting in California, 1971-1992

Kousser, J. Morgan (1995) Reapportionment Wars: Party, Race, and Redistricting in California, 1971-1992. Social Science Working Paper, 930. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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Understanding the impact of the redistricting of state legislative and congressional seats in California in the 1990s on ethnic minorities and the two principal political parties requires more than a narrative of events. Without explicit quantitative techniques for estimating the partisan consequences of plans that were unsuccessfully proposed, as well as those that were adopted, we cannot gauge what difference the ultimate choice of plans made or fully evaluate the intentions of the framers and opponents of each plan. Accordingly, in Social Science Working Paper 929, I developed and tested two methods of comparing the likely partisan outcomes under different reapportionment schemes. In this paper, I apply those techniques. But neither quantitative methods nor a story that begins in 1990 tells us all we need to know. The recent past indelibly imprinted the actors in 1991 and deeply affected their behavior. Therefore, I begin in 1971 and explain how a controversy over electing a Latino to the Assembly wrecked an agreed compromise and led to a reapportionment imposed by the State Supreme Court, employing Special Masters and technicians, an experience that kindled Democratic, as well as Republican hopes in 1991 that the judiciary and those whom they appointed to carry out the redistricting would not treat their party unfairly. Even more important for the combatants in the 1990s was the fact that Democratic party control of the redistricting process in the 1980s led to a bitter ten-year partisan struggle that ultimately undermined the state legislature as an institution, brought about a partisan Republican takeover of the State Supreme Court, and encouraged Republicans to torpedo all compromise on redistricting in 1991 and turn reapportionment over to the court. In the background of these events, and helping to shape them, were actions by the Congress and the federal judiciary. The equal population and minority vote dilution cases and the evolving Voting Rights Act significantly constrained the degree of discrimination against partisan and ethnic minorities in California, as elsewhere in the nation. As Latinos and African-Americans became a more and more important part of the Democratic leadership, as well as of the Democratic voters, partisan and ethnic interests became more and more correlated, and external legal constraints, less necessary to protect minority political power - as long as Democrats controlled redistricting. When Democrats lost control, and when unelected technocrats, particularly a redistricting commission created and appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1991, took over, minority interests were largely ignored. Fortunately, in 1991, the judicial precedents protecting minorities were still strong and the technocrats who drafted the plans for the State Supreme Court were both diligent and, overall, sympathetic to minority concerns. What would happen if those precedents were reversed or weakened, as some have interpreted the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Shaw v. Reno and Miller v. Johnson as doing, depends on who retains the ultimate power to draw districts. The three chief findings of the quantitative analysis in this paper are striking: Neither the Masters' Plan of 1973 nor the so-called "Burton Gerrymander" of 1981 was as pro-Democratic as has often been suggested, nor was the Masters' Plan of 1991 so nonpartisan. The lessons for future reapportionments in California suggested by the analysis of those from 1971 on are pessimistic. Term limits will rob the legislature of any expertise in redistricting, turning remapping entirely over to unaccountable technicians, lobbyists, and party leaders. Term limits are also likely to increase partisan strife, because a bipartisan incumbent gerrymander will become impossible. The recent California tendency to replace legislative bargaining over reapportionment with judicial fiat, the courts' habit of intervening in matters previously left to the legislature, the public's cynicism about any legislative activity, and the U.S. Supreme Court's invitation to anyone aggrieved by a remapping to file suit virtually insures that redistricting in 2001 will be designed by, or at least exhaustively challenged in the courts. Whether that will be good for democracy and for the rights of ethnic minorities is less certain.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
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Additional Information:Daniel Hays Lowenstein and Jonathan Steinberg made this a better paper with their helpful comments on an earlier draft. Most writers on California reapportionment have been participants in the process. E.g., Baker 1 962; Cain 1 984; Hinderaker and Waters 1 952; Lowell and Craigie 1 985; Quinn 1 98 1 and 1 984; Wilkening 1 977. Although I have never helped to draw a district, I did serve as an expert witness for most of the members of the Democratic congressional delegation in an unsuccessful federal court challenge to the 1991 Special Masters' Plan. Published as Kousser, J. Morgan. Reapportionment Wars: Party, Race, and Redistricting in California, 1971-1992. No. 5. Agathon Press, 1998.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:930
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170818-130903388
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:80619
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:18 Aug 2017 20:28
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:33

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