The government rolls out the 2020 census this month, a process mired in controversy and litigation. Locally, statewide and nationally, we have a lot at stake.
The issues have taken on greater urgency by the distinct likelihood that Minnesota could, due to demographic changes, lose one representative in Congress after the decennial headcount.
After the elections this fall, officials will redetermine seats for all members of the Minnesota Legislature, including the 67-member Senate and the 135-member House of Representatives. While always significant, this next legislature will be especially consequential because the body will be tasked with reapportioning Minnesota’s entire congressional delegation, either eight (hopefully) or seven, as well as the legislature itself.
The boundaries the solons draw, subject to approval of Gov. Tim Walz, will be of particular interest – and importance – here in the quad communities, which have experienced some turbulence in the past and are likely to encounter more in the future. One reason for the volatility has been demographic and population changes, which resulted in modification of boundaries for elected officials.
Another new element stems from a U. S. Supreme Court ruling at the end of its 2018-19 term, in Rucho v. Common Cause, which allowed partisan gerrymandering. After fruitless considerations of an effective “standard” for designing Congressional districts (beyond the one-person, one-vote population equivalence of the 1960s) the High Court punted. Actually, over strong objections from four liberal dissenters, it did more than kick the issue away; the tribunal grabbed it like the Lucy character in the “Peanuts” cartoon strip. It chose to bar the federal courts from adjudicating these cases at all, reasoning that the claims were beyond the court’s reach.
Despite the mandate for federal courts to stand down on partisan gerrymandering claims, there are other ways to combat them. Chiefly, those opposed to the practice, whether Democrats or Republicans (yes, the Democrats do it, too, but not so frequently, broadly or effectively), or independents can elect legislative bodies and governors, the ones who are supposed to establish the voting districts in most jurisdictions after each census, of different parties.
Splitting control of the process is likely to assure some compromise, and judicial intervention by state courts can overcome a redistricting impasse. The latter has periodically occurred here in Minnesota; there is a long tradition of judicial intervention in redistricting, including the three occasions between 1990 and 2010. One such case, Growe v. Emisson, featured litigation that reached the High Court in 1993, overturning a federal court redistricting map created after legislative impasse and sending the matter back to the legislature for a re-do, which it did.
An alternative, used with increasing frequency in some 20 states, is when an independent apolitical body recommends redistricting or undertakes the task itself. That arrangement was approved four years ago by the Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
Any prospective reapportionment in our state will undoubtedly raise questions effecting the quad communities and elsewhere.
One threshold issue is how many of the 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats Minnesota will have. It had nine for a long time, but lost one after the 1970 census due to disproportionate population growth in the Sunbelt. The state has since been clinging to those eight seats, awaiting the next national tally, and it could face reduction in the upcoming decade, resulting in greater realignment of districts. Even if the number remains stable, some changes may be in store.
For years, the bulk of voters in the quad communities have been situated in the Third Congressional District, which was dominated by voters in more westerly suburbs. Invariably, Republicans were elected in the area for more than five decades, until residents in the four cities were shuffled back into a Minneapolis-centered district, District 5. District 5 has been one of the most solidly democratic districts in the nation for several decades and is currently represented by DFLer Ilhan Omar. The four communities could remain together in the future, or again split into two differently realigned districts.
The legislative districts also have been shuffled over the years, but lately the seats for the quad communities have been occupied almost uniformly by Democrats, a pattern likely to continue regardless of reapportionment.
Where these four cities – Golden Valley, Crystal, New Hope, and Robbinsdale – end up after the census adjustments, are questions remaining to be answered.