Next year marks the 200th birthday of the term “gerrymander.” The word, which refers to the redrawing of a congressional district to one party’s advantage, was named for Maryland Governor Eldbridge Gerry. Gerry (pictured, right) has since been forgotten, but gerrymandering is alive and well.
With the findings of the 2010 U.S. Census now in the hands of the states, the various legislatures, judicial boards and commissions tasked with redistricting are still in the process of redrawing the next American congressional map. Despite some states’ attempts at fairness and transparency, the practice is not without controversy.
Last week, a U.S. District Court Judge rejected a redistricting map proposed by the Texas state legislature. The judge's ruling leaves the Texas congressional elections of 2012 in a state of flux.
With Christmas just around the corner, Americans are getting into the gift-giving mood. Most of us only have a few occasions every year when we can expect to receive gifts. But for politicians, public officials and lobbyists, gift-giving is a year-round practice, and one that often treads close to an ethics violation.
For members of state government , gifts often come in the form of a trip bought and paid for by a lobbyist or advocacy group. Those gifts can go straight to the public official, but on occasion, they go to an official’s family member instead.
For example, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat now in his second term , revealed in his 2009 disclosure report that his wife Ginger had received round-trip airfare from Little Rock to St. Louis, valued at $250. Ginger Beebe’s trip was paid for by Clark Mason, a Little Rock-based attorney. The reason for Beebe’s trip is not explained in the disclosure form. In 2010, when two Arkansas judges recused themselves from hearing a lawsuit, Governor Beebe named two lawyers to take their place; one of them was Clark Mason.
The right to a fair trial is one of the founding ideas in American government. The court system is established in Article 3 of the United States Constitution, and five of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights ensure a citizen’s chance at getting fair treatment from legal authorities and their guaranteed rights in court. But these essential rights could be undermined by campaign financing.
Often, when a person stands for trial, he or she is facing a judge who is elected by the public, and not appointed or confirmed by a higher authority. According to New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, 39 American states have judicial elections of some kind. These elections aren’t new: By the mid-19th century, more than half the states were holding judicial elections. What is new -- and more than a bit troubling from an integrity standpoint -- is the sudden increase in the levels of campaign fundraising in judicial elections.