Tri-State Defender - Cohen looking for progress on bill to ‘depoliticize’ the redistricting process

January 9, 2015
In The News

Long a proponent of taking the decennial congressional apportionment process out of the hands of politicians, Rep. Steve Cohen has once again introduced legislation to do just that.

The apportionment process, Cohen says, often leads to partisan gerrymandering. He favors an independent redistricting commission. On Thursday, Cohen reintroduced the John Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act, which would create such a commission.

Cohen also introduced the legislation in the 113th Congress. Saying it’s time to take politics out of the redistricting process,” he’s back at it in the 114th Congress.

“Congress is so polarized today that we’re unable to find common ground on the major issues facing our country. Instead of solving our nation’s problems, Congress is just kicking the can down the road and waiting until the next election for answers,” said Cohen.

“I believe that if we eliminate the gerrymandering of districts we will help get more accomplished for our country.”

Beginning after the 2020 census, the FAIR Act would require each state to appoint an independent and transparent congressional redistricting commission. According to Cohen, the commission would be charged with creating a redistricting plan that emphasizes geographical contiguity and compactness of districts rather than political affiliations or the impact a district’s lines may have on incumbent representatives.

The bill says that the state legislature and the governor may approve or reject the commission’s plan, but may not amend it. If the governor does not sign a plan by November 1st of the year before a congressional reapportionment, the commission may then forward its plans to the state’s highest court, which may select one, but may not make any amendments.

If the state court is unable to select a plan, the federal district court would then develop and publish a final redistricting plan. The bill also prohibits a state from redistricting until after the next census unless it is under court order to do so.

The FAIR Act was championed for many years by former West Tennessee Congressman John Tanner. It was introduced in the 112th Congress by former Tennessee Congressman Heath Shuler.