Once you understand that the front lines in the battle for democracy are gerrymandered statehouses, so many other developments that may at first appear disparate suddenly fit together.
The common theme?
Those attacking democracy and advancing extremism through statehouses are working feverishly to cordon off these gerrymandered statehouses from any accountability. They want them to be able to do their dirty work—deeply unpopular for the most part—with nothing in the way to stop them.
Just a few examples:
• The Supreme Court’s decade-long gutting of the Voting Rights Act has removed what was once the strongest check preventing state-level attacks on democracy and voters;
• Congressional Republicans’ refusal to renew the Voting Rights Act, something that Republicans from Reagan to Bush did with nearly unanimous bipartisan majorities, cements that impact into place. The filibuster is also playing a key role here;
• The independent state legislature theory would keep state courts and state constitutions from serving as checks on state legislatures on election-related matters. So that would mean statehouses are subject to neither federal nor their own state’s laws—even if the people themselves amend that state’s constitution by referendum;
• In states like Ohio, North Carolina, and others, when independent courts have emerged as a threat to legislative power, legislatures have changed the rules of how Justices are elected or selected to eliminate that independent check as much as possible. It’s working;
• Similarly, when other threats emerge to legislative power, be they in the forms of governors, Secretaries of State, or other elected bodies (in Ohio, the most recent example was a state school board), they again work feverishly to strip power from those bodies;
• Extreme gerrymandering keeps these statehouse politicians comfortably sealed off from the people. Intense voter suppression also plays a role. The goal is not simply to gain a majority…it’s to eliminate accountability. In some states, practically to a person, members of these rigged majorities never face a competitive general election. In other words, they face no accountability, even from their own people. Intense gerrymandering also creates veto-proof supermajorities, eliminating a check from elected governors;
• And in another effort to stave off accountability from the people, there’s even a nationwide effort to add hurdles to the way that people can amend their state constitutions. This is to keep the people from directly overturning unpopular state laws, enshrining into place rights that legislatures can’t then overturn through laws, or demanding reforms like fair districts. One more check on statehouse power, eliminated;
• Finally, the broader conservative push in the courts is rapidly eliminating other, once-bedrock Constitutional checks against extreme state-level laws. As in the case of access to abortion and potentially other attacks on privacy, statehouse extremism that would’ve been doomed to fail in federal courts only years ago is now succeeding.
So that’s their goal: statehouses that face no accountability from either federal or state law, from other officials, or from the people themselves. And, dangerously, they’ve made enormous strides in attaining this goal across the country—even as they’ve struggled to win at the federal level.
This makes clear what the goal of those fighting FOR democracy must be: add accountability back whenever possible. Whenever there’s a chance to do so—be it restoring the Voting Rights Act, pushing for state-level districting reforms, shoring up independent judiciaries, and investing resources to ensure pro-democracy candidates are able to wage robust campaigns at the statehouse level—we must fight like hell to make it happen.