Reforming Redistricting


There are several ways in which redistricting reform could in theory be achieved. State legislatures could voluntarily cede control over district-drawing, courts could invalidate especially egregious gerrymanders, or popular initiatives could be launched to create redistricting commissions. However, thanks to the self-interest of legislators as well as the Supreme Court’s unfortunate recent decisions in Vieth v. Jubelirer and LULAC v. Perry, the redistricting initiative is now the only realistic way to curb political gerrymandering. This Article provides the first detailed empirical and normative examination of redistricting initiatives. The Article begins by making the case for the popular initiative in the redistricting context, and for the redistricting commission as a solution to the problem of gerrymandering. Relying on extensive archival research, it next analyzes all twelve redistricting initiatives that have taken place over the course of American history, positing explanations for why each measure succeeded or failed. Finally, the Article considers the twelve initiatives holistically in order to determine what factors best account for the measures’ passage or rejection, and how proponents of redistricting reform can improve their odds of success in the future. The Article’s main finding is that, contrary to the academic conventional wisdom, the most important reason for redistricting initiatives’ frequent failure is the strident opposition of the majority party in the state legislature. Conversely, redistricting initiatives only succeed when some factor—e.g. favorable national developments, the enthusiastic support of the state’s media establishment, dissension between the majority party’s executive branch officials and its legislators—defuses majority party opposition.


Constitutional Law | Law and Politics

Date of this Version

September 2006