Tuesday, February 27

Eric Holder on gerrymandering: “Republicans have to cheat in order to win” elections

Former Attorney General Eric Holder says Americans’ voting rights are in serious danger, and that partisan gerrymandering – especially as practiced by Republicans redrawing electoral maps to splinter Democratic bases of support – is part of the reason that our democracy is “in need of serious renovation.”

Holder (who is currently chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which challenges electoral maps) says he is committed to ending partisan gerrymandering. Appearing on “CBS Mornings” on Monday, Holder said gerrymandering and laws aimed at suppressing voter turnout are attempts to keep “the will of the American people from being expressed in the ballot box.”  

“CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil asked, “Both parties do it, right? So, how do you get them to disarm and come to the table and agree on your solution, which would be these sort of independent commissions?” 

“We can’t fall into some notion of equivalency here, because in a lot of ways that’s false,” Holder said. “What Princeton University said, they looked at the gerrymandering that the Republicans did in the last cycle, in 2012, and said it was the worst gerrymandering of the last half-century. There have been maps that Democrats have drawn in this cycle that I don’t agree with, New York and Maryland among them. But those pale in comparison to what Republicans have done in Texas, Georgia, potentially in Florida. You’re comparing apples and oranges in a lot of ways. 

“I’m committed to fighting for fairness,” he said, “because I’m also confident that if the process is fair, the Democrats, progressives will do just fine. We don’t have to cheat; Republicans have to cheat in order to win.”

In his new book, “Our Unfinished March” (co-authored with Sam Koppelman, available Tuesday), Holder offers suggestions on protecting the rights of voters and increasing majority rule, in a government where the minority frequently controls policy. Among his proposals: assign term limits for Supreme Court justices, who currently are appointed for life; eliminate the Electoral College; and grant statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, whose residents have no vote in Congress.

William Morrow

Dokoupil asked, “You yourself in the book say some of these ideas might seem radical. Is there one that you think we should focus on right now and could get done?”

“I think the possibility exists for all of them to get done,” Holder said, “because the reality is that, you know, if you look back at our history, everything seemed like it was impossible. We had to end an American system of racial apartheid. I’m sure Dr. King had moments where he thought ‘We can’t pull this off,’ and yet they did. Women were not likely to get the right to vote. Alice Paul, somebody we don’t talk about an awful lot, led the movement, and now women have the right to vote. 

“So, yeah, we could do away with the Electoral College; there’s a way in which we can do it without amending the Constitution. We can end partisan gerrymandering. It was federal legislation that was considered and that should have been passed. All of these things are possible. If we limit ourselves and say they’re impossible, they’ll never happen. If we say they’re possible and work toward them, we can make this happen.” 

Holder said that efforts at voter suppression today mirror those that were done in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to empower a few while disenfranchising the many. Regardless, “Ordinary people were able to fight those people who tried to hold onto power in an unjustified way, and actually empower the American people,” he said. “The arc that we have seen in this country has always been to empower more people, get more people the right to vote. And we can do that again.”

On the matter of the will of the people, Dokoupil asked Holder about the recent leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, which would trigger many states to eliminate access and even criminalize abortion, despite polls showing Americans widely favor keeping Roe in place. 

Dokoupil asked, “If Roe is overturned and abortion rights are no longer guaranteed in this country, you would support the end of the filibuster to pass a law providing access. Tell me how that might work.” 

“I think that what’s likely to happen is that the decision may actually occur that Roe is overturned,” Holder said. “I suspect the language that you saw in the leaked Alito opinion will not appear; it’s caustic. I think it’s overheated. But if Roe were to be overturned and if we could get past the filibuster, you could pass a federal statute that would declare as the law of the land women would have the right to reproductive choices that the American people support. 

“I think that’s something we have to understand here. The Supreme Court is about to do something that is inconsistent with the will of the American people and upon which the American people have relied for the past 50 years.”

“Everything you write about in this book is about making sure majority rules in this country,” said Dokoupil. “And we have a system at the moment where minority rules in some cases. Removing the filibuster would be a way to make sure majority positions take hold. One criticism would be that it creates a ping-pong effect. Republicans come into power, they ban abortion access; Democrats come back into power, they flip the light switch in the other direction. What do you say to that?”

“We have to believe in the American people and believe in our system,” Holder replied. “The ping-pong effect would be modified by the fact that through the electoral process. If a party comes in, takes power and puts in place positions that are inconsistent again with the desires of the American people, they get voted out. There is the potential for the ping-pong. But you know, we have to believe in the American people, as opposed to debasing the systems that we have put in place that for too long keep the will of the American people from directing the way in which the nation should proceed.”

When asked if this thinks the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, has any options if Roe is overturned, Holder replied, “There’s the possibility I suppose of executive actions. But I think the real rejoinder to any decision that the court might make would be federal legislation.”

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