Alito, malapportionment, Mugabe, and conservatism

Malapportionment—legislative districts having significantly unequal voters-to-representatives ratios–is a good friend to conservatives. A malapportioned legislature favors—and increasingly over time—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 liberalism–conservatism divide and the urban–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.)

0 thoughts on “Alito, malapportionment, Mugabe, and conservatism

  1. Of course, the GOP also has a majority in the House of Representatives, so it is entirely plausible that a non-malapportioned Senate would have a Republican majority just as the non-malapportioned House does.

    Not to mention that the malapportionment of the Senate is even less likely to be abolished than plurality voting for Congress, especially given American voters’ apparent disinterest in enacting even minor electoral reforms such as the CA and OH referenda limiting the widely-despised practice of partisan gerrymandering.

  2. Senate votes cast in elections of current senators: 46.8% GOP, 48.4% Dem; House elections with GOP vote majority: 1994 and 2002. Only. So, the voting result for Senate nor the fact of GOP House seat majorities does not suggest that the Republicans could have a Senate majority absent the malapportionment.

    The Senate data, of course, come from elections in 2000, 2002, and 2004, given the separate classes of senators. But as the House results show, the GOP is not consistently winning majorities of the vote for that body either. Unlike in the Senate, at least it is winning national pluralities of the vote in the House, although some sources report Democratic pluralities in 1996 and others do so for 2000.

    Past Democratic majorities of seats in each house have been based on vote majorities. But the current GOP majorities are not.

    GOP House majorities are manufactured out of pluralities of the national vote (not counting 1996 and/or 2000) due to FPTP and gerrymandering. GOP majorities in the Senate are manufactured out of less than a plurality of votes due to FTP and, without doubt, the very constitutionally protected malapportionment of that body.

    Thanks, Chris, for the comment! I will be posting graphs of these data in the near future.

  3. In regards to the intent that the Senate be representative of the states not parties, do you have any thoughts about maybe changing it to be indirectly elected via appointments by the state governments, much like the German Bundesrat? It sounded intriguing when I first learned about it in my Comparative Governments class.

  4. The short answer to fling93 is, no, I would not go back to indirect election of senators unless other major structural changes went along with such a change.

    For instance, in Germany, the Bundesrat is somnewhat weaker than the lower house, states are not represented equally regardless of population, and the members are explicit agents of the incumbent majority in their states.

    In the USA, the Senate is co-equal or even stonger than the House, every state gets equal senate repersentation regardless of population, and terms are long, fixed, and staggered. So, US senators are much more powerful than their German counterparts and also much more independent (because they don’t serve at the pleasure of the state’s majority, as do those in Germany).

    If senators are powerful, unrepresentative, and independent, they need to be directly elected, because that is the only way to temper each of those characteristics. Going back to indirect election without changing these other characteristics would only worsen the democratic deficit that we face.

    I’m glad you asked!

    Readers alert: On electoral reform more generally, fling93 is a kindred soul.

  5. Gawd, I’m embarrassed. Thanks. Reason I haven’t posted more on the topic is that I think I need to learn a lot more.

    And thanks for the informative answer. It was something I was wondering about for a while.

    BTW, I’ve been looking for an RSS feed of your entries and can’t seem to find one.

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