Updated: In the comments, Common Cause Georgia requested I link to their Georgia organization, rather than the national one. Link fixed.
Jim Walls, publisher of the investigative website Atlanta Unfiltered reported “discussions” that the Georgia Legislature may hire Troutman Sanders Strategies to draw help create the new district maps required (by law) every 10 years. Nobody’s actually said so, but here’s the money quote:
This potential change has the folks over at Common Cause in a swivet. “Georgia for Sale?” they ask in a panicked blog post about the issue. Nothing scares the goo-goos* like lobbyists getting a contract. But I have to ask: why would anyone think this is somehow a bad idea?
There have been attempts to create independent redistricting bodies before -former Governor Perdue tried in 2007 -his bill never made it out of committee. Another attempt in 2008 failed as well. Try as you might, you’ll never ‘take the politics out of politics’ and redistricting is the most nakedly partisan of all political processes.
The redistricting process generally follows this script: With new data, everybody and his brother starts drawing maps, then they fight about them and when everybody is really mad, they settle on the set of maps that protects the most incumbents and gives the majority party the best chance at increasing their majority. Then everybody goes to court and Judges draw the real maps, which shouldn’t deviate too much (used to be +/-5%, but Cox v. Larios set it at +/-1%) in population from one district to the next and should make some attempt to keep cities and counties and “communities of interest” in the same districts. Also, they can’t reduce the number of African Americans in a district (where they make up a majority of the population of that district) It’s the “going to court” part that gets expensive, and most legislators would like to avoid that. Sure they want maps that provide incumbent protection, but it has to be legally defensible incumbent protection.
Well, who better to prepare for redistricting litigation than a lobbying firm that is also one of the premiere law firms in the country? This is no knock against the Legislative Reapportionment Services office -a service of the well-respected Carl Vinson Institute, but if there’s a reasonable chance you might have to litigate your maps, hiring legal experts on the front end makes sense.
Besides, it’s not like there’s a bunch of law students who are going to draw district maps for free, is it?
Well, it’s not like their Professor, Nathaniel Persily, knows much about Georgia redistricting, is it?
But at least Troutman Sanders Strategies hasn’t hired any former legislators recently, because the timing of that might look a little odd.
There’s no telling how much money the last legal fight over Georgia’s redistricting cost. It took half a decade and was messy, public and expensive. But cheer up! Maybe this time it will only be expensive.
*A slang term for proponents of “good government.” Used here affectionately.