Hoosiers hopeful U.S. Supreme Court case will spur Indiana redistricting reforms

Julia Vaughn, policy director at Common Cause Indiana, with microphone at right, rallies supporters of legislative redistricting reform outside the federal courthouse Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers supporting redistricting reform rallied outside the federal courthouse here Tuesday, hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court soon may prohibit state lawmakers from drawing legislative district boundaries that benefit one political party.

The practice, known as gerrymandering, dates to the earliest years of the United States. But the nation's high court, in a case out of Wisconsin, is reconsidering whether partisan gerrymandering should be prohibited akin to racial gerrymandering.

Julia Vaughn, policy director at Common Cause Indiana, said when legislators pick their voters by drawing district lines that effectively guarantee their election, they often no longer feel the need to listen or respond to their constituents.

"The power of voters in Indiana, and across our country, is being subverted because of these lines that were drawn to advantage a political party over another," she said.

Shelia Kennedy, an Indiana University law professor who served on the Legislature's 2015-16 redistricting study committee, said gerrymandering has gotten worse as new mapping tools and other technology make it easier to identify partisan supporters and group them in ways that obliterate the other side.

"One out of 20 Americans lives in a competitive congressional district," Kennedy said. "Safe seats allow our legislators to ignore public opinion, ignore the desires of their constituents and simply hang on to power."

Hoosier lawmakers repeatedly have rejected proposals to have Indiana's legislative districts be drawn by an independent commission on the grounds that every person serving on such a commission still would have an inherent partisan bias.

Vaughan said she's nevertheless optimistic that a strong Supreme Court ruling against partisan gerrymandering will prompt the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to support fair district lines, since nothing less than democracy itself is at stake.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.