Last week saw some seismic events in Virginia politics (in a year full of them).
First, on October 6, same-sex couples began to obtain official marriage licenses from the state. And then later in the week, a federal court struck down the state's electoral district map, arguing that the 2012 redistricting was inappropriate based on racial divisions.
Two huge events, led by court decisions -- or, in the case of marriage equality, a refusal by the Supreme Court to review earlier court decisions. Here's the thing, though: these events are related, and help explain why courts play such a big role in our lawmaking.
We can see this with marriage equality. What has the response from opponents been to the suddenly widespread sanctioning of same-sex marriage? Most have echoed two lawyers from the conservative Thomas More Law Center, who put it this way: "Supreme Court to South Carolina: Drop Dead."
Granted, maybe that was Politico's headline writers, trying for clickthroughs. Still, the article pretty clearly shows the authors' love for democracy and disdain for overzealous judges:
The decision undermined the fundamental basis of a democracy—that laws reflect the will of the majority....The voice of the majority was silenced by appointed judges who hold lifetime appointments.
Never mind that the Thomas More Law Center is perfectly happy undermining democracy when it suits them (by, for example, unsuccessfully asking the courts to overturn the ObamaCare law even though it was passed by a democratically elected legislative body). The point is that they argue here that they want the decision to be left up to the people.
And that's how democracy is supposed to work: if the people don't like what their representatives are doing, they can vote them out, right? That's exactly the argument made by one conservative commenter on a Roanoke Times op-ed. She wrote:
A state election is based on individual votes--and in Virginia, the majority has supported non-homosexual marriage. If Virginians want it changed, they can do so by electing new representatives. But, allowing non-elected judges to make law takes away rights.
That SOUNDS entirely reasonable; again, that's why we have elections. But it's actually ridiculous -- or somewhere between naive and disingenous -- thanks to the other big news story from last week: our electoral district map.
Via Bearing Drift, here's the electoral map based on results in the last mid-term election:
That's 8 Republican Congressional districts, vs. 3 Democratic. But does that reflect our actual population?
Since Virginia is an open primary state, it's hard to track exactly how many Democrats and Republicans there are in the state. But Democrats swept the state-wide races in 2013 and hold both Senate seats, while Obama won the state in both 2008 and 2012. As Bob Holsworth pointed out in the Times-Dispatch last week, "Virginia is not an 8-3 state... it’s not a 2-to-1 Republican state.”
But it is a Republican-controlled state, and so they've rigged the system to benefit them in Congress (and at the state level, as well), despite the fact that over half the state electorate seems to regularly vote for Democrats.
The RTD article cited above quoted Charles W. Dunn, a former McDonell crony and Regent University dean, as wanting to avoid nonpartisan solutions:
[Dunn] says the Virginia legislature should “make the best of partisanship” and keep the decision in the political realm. “I would like to see an appropriate political compromise in the historic venue” between the legislature and the governor.
I have no earthly idea why anyone would want this. We need what groups like OneVirginia2021 have been pushing: nonpartisan redistricting. Create a panel of truly independent officials and let them go at it based on sane criteria.
Voters have shown no inclination to punish overly reaching districting plans - in part because the plans disenfranchise anyone who wants to complain! If we want a democracy that actually reflects the will of the people -- on marriage equality or any other issue -- then we need to make it an actual democracy, with the old rule of one person, one vote.