The moral hazards of redistricting

August 28, 2011

Before Gov. Martin O'Malley frolics down the morally hazardous path of gerrymandering, it would be well to remember exactly why James Madison, the father of our Constitution, steered his fellow delegates away from creating a direct democracy and toward a republic.

Direct democracies elect representatives in proportions that mirror the larger body politic. Each significant demographic group gets a representative whose vote it owns.

Republics, on the other hand, extend "constituency spheres" that create a complex weave of countervailing interests within each sphere. Such spheres to some extent distance elected officials from individual and local ties, thus freeing them to be more impartial.

Madison wanted legislators to advance their own interests "in an arena of just arbitration ... to make a constituent's best claim, in conjunction with the just claims of others."

The Constitution created a government that was essentially arbitrative, with neutral umpires weighing competing interests to strike a just balance.

Governor O'Malley should know this about the Constitution — and exactly what it looks like when it's being tread upon.

Larry Smith, Timonium

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