Sandra Day O’Connor and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the first and second women to occupy seats on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court. They served together for a total of thirteen years, and during that time, they often found themselves on opposite sides of the high court’s decisions, with O’Connor’s moderate conservative worldview on one side and Ginsburg unapologetic liberalism on the other.
Roanoke Times (Op-Ed): In redistricting, ‘compromise’ isn’t a bad word
Roanoke Times (Op-Ed): In redistricting, 'compromise' isn't a bad word
But collegiality was essential to their relationship. Ginsburg observed O’Connor put “country above party and self-interest,” and that her longtime colleague “was as close as I came to having a big sister.”
Virginia lawmakers could learn a thing or two from this partnership. But it’s a sad truth that finding common ground and working towards a shared goal is exceedingly rare in this day and age. Elected officials in Virginia and across the country are overwhelmingly polarized, appealing to the extremes of their party’s base voters.
In the grand scheme of our nation’s history, it wasn’t that long ago that both Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were nearly unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. This kind of bipartisan support seems unimaginable in 2020.
One part of the answer is the unfair way party operatives draw our district lines every ten years.
Virginia’s current system allows the party in power to control redistricting, and the result of allowing political insiders to draw their own election districts is partisan gerrymandering. Incumbent politicians manipulate the district lines to give an advantage to themselves and their party to win elections.
From there, an incumbent only needs to worry about getting through the primary, because the general election is already stacked in their favor. The party’s base then gets all the attention, leaving the rest of us in the dust.
In essence, the status quo allows legislators to pick their voters through backroom deals. Political polarization is an obvious byproduct of this broken system.
It doesn’t have to be this way. This year, Virginia voters have the power to back control of this process by voting YES on Amendment One as they cast their ballots.
This constitutional amendment would create a citizen-led commission responsible for redistricting. This panel would be split evenly by party — eight Democrats and eight Republicans — and would require full transparency of all meetings.
Best of all, this referendum has been forged in bipartisan compromise. Virginia law dictates that an identical version of amendments like this must pass through both legislative chambers in consecutive years. Getting any legislature to agree to pass redistricting reform is almost impossible; doing it twice defies the odds.
Even more impressive is the fact that the two votes of the legislature straddled a change of majority control of the House of Delegates, from Republicans in 2019 to Democrats in 2020. After much debate, the measure ultimately passed with bipartisan support two years in a row. That’s nothing short of a miracle.
And because the commission requires a supermajority of its members to approve the final maps, compromise is essential to the function of its work. One partisan faction cannot overpower the rest, leading to legislative district lines that are drawn fairly.
Dialogue. Reconciliation. Compromise. In these anxious and angry times, it can be hard to remember how important these acts of human decency are to our democracy. In order for the commission to exist, and to do its job, we’ll need to remember how important the art of listening is. Giving communities that have never been at the political table a chance to be heard will be a game-changer.
Common Cause endorses Amendment One because “fairness” and “compromise” aren’t bad words. This referendum is at the heart of our mission to empower people to come together to find common solutions.
Justice Ginsburg described the danger of partisan gerrymandering: “It’s drawing a map so people think, ‘Why bother voting? This is a secure Republican district or this is a secure Democratic district, so my vote doesn’t count.’ That’s not a good thing for democracy.”
By shifting the power from politicians drawing maps behind closed doors to a public panel led by voters, you would send an unmistakable message to all Virginians: your voice matters.
It’s time to put Virginia above party and self-interest. Vote yes on Amendment One.
Feng is the national redistricting director at Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group focused on open and accountable government.