Saturday, March 11 at 4:00 pm

Speaker Series: Partisanship, Gerrymandering, and the Right to Vote

In his farewell presidential address in 1797, George Washington expressed dismay regarding the establishment of political parties. He expressed concern that such parties likely to “become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”

Has partisanship – allegiance to a political party – come to dominate our electoral system? Are voters more likely to vote the party line, rather than for a particular candidate?  Join us on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. when John Hyson will tackle these important questions and more.

One powerful instrument of partisanship is gerrymandering – the drawing of legislative districts in such a way as to ensure that a particular party will win the majority of seats in an upcoming election. In recent years, federal courts have reviewed challenges to voting restrictions and gerrymandering. In these cases, the courts have interpreted and applied the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. At the present time, two such challenges – alleging racial gerrymandering – are under review by the Supreme Court. And, in December 2016, a lower federal court set aside the drawing of legislative districts by the Wisconsin state legislature on the ground that the legislature’s actions represented unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering – the establishment of districts that were designed to produce a legislature dominated by a particular political party.

Republicans have come to dominate state legislatures and governorships. Some of this domination is the product of the imposition of voting restrictions and alleged racial and partisan gerrymandering. In January 2017, President Obama announced that he would be joining former Attorney General Eric Holder in an effort to increase the number of Democratic state legislatures and governorships.

Are partisanship and gerrymandering undermining fundamental democratic values? If so, what can be done? Is it reasonable to expect legislative solutions? Are the courts capable of dealing with the problem? Come participate in this timely and important discussion.

About the presenter: John Hyson is a graduate of Harvard Law School and was a law clerk for a federal district court judge in Boston.  Mr. Hyson taught at Villanova Law School for 36 years. A past president of the Stockbridge Library Board of Trustees, he lives with his wife Marilou in Stockbridge.

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