Malapportionmentâ€”legislative districts having significantly unequal voters-to-representatives ratios–is a good friend to conservatives. A malapportioned legislature favorsâ€”and increasingly over timeâ€”those legislative districts with smaller and declining populations (usually rural) at the expense of those with larger and increasing populations (mainly urban). While there is never a perfect correlation between the liberalismâ€“conservatism divide and the urbanâ€“rural divide, there is a very strong one. Not only in the USA, but virtually everywhere. That is why, for instance, Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, has created a Senate that will be biased towards the countryside (5 elected seats per province, plus traditional chiefs) precisely at a time when his urban support base is collapsing. (The Zimbabwe senate elections are on November 26, and have badly split the opposition.)
Given the inherent conservative bias in malapportioned legislatures, a statement about US Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s views that was buried deep in an LA Times story this morning should be viewed with particuar alarm by any democrat (note small ‘d’). The Times story is about the already-(in)famous memo by Samuel Alito from his days in the Reagan administration.
As a college student, Alito said, he developed an interest in constitutional law, “motivated in large part by disagreement with the Warren court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the establishment clause and reapportionment.”
“Reapportionment” here is a reference to Baker v. Carr, the 1962 US Supreme Court decision that said that states and cities could not have significantly malapportioned districts.
As Scott Lemieux commented over a week ago, Alito has said he is a strong admirer of Justice Harlan, about whom Scott noted:
the man dissented in Baker v. Carr, the apportionment case Warren considered with good reason the most important of his tenure.
Indeed, the malapportionment case was a miletstone in improving the representativeness of state legislatures. (They are still of dubious representative character, due to gerrymandering and also plurality voting itself, but at least they are not currently malapportioned.) If fair apportionment were to be threatened by an emerging conservative majority in the Supreme Court, this would have far deeper ramifications than Roe v. Wade, on which most of the attention is based. It would allow conservatives to win legislative battles by malapportionment that they could not win through fairly apportioned legislative elections.
Of course, it hardly surprising that Alito would like malapportionment. Not only do conservatives generally benefit from unequal representation of voters in legislative bodies, but more immediately, he could never be confirmed were it not for the gross malapportionment of the US Senate, on which the Republican seat majority rests. Ah yes, the value of malapportionment. Finally, something that the US conservative movement and Robert Mugabe can agree on!
(I may have more to say at some later point about the shocking revelation that Alito is a Republican. Then again I may not.)