Winner of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review’s Second Annual Public Interest Essay Competition:
Partisan gerrymandering decreases the electoral accountability and responsiveness of legislative bodies and contributes to the polarization of American politics. When drawing the lines of new electoral district maps, legislators from the majority party have a strong interest, both collectively and individually, in manipulating the location and composition of these districts so as to entrench and extend their control over legislative bodies. This is in conflict with the public’s interest in electoral accountability and representative government. Moreover, allowing individual legislators to vote on matters that directly affect their own prospects for reelection—often determinatively—creates a clear conflict of interest with their legal and ethical responsibilities as public servants.
This Essay examines legislative control over redistricting through the lens of conflicts of interest law and suggests a novel legal framework for addressing partisan gerrymandering. Part I starts by giving a brief overview of the history and legal landscape surrounding partisan gerrymandering before moving on to a discussion of the problem of legislative control over redistricting. Part II assesses the applicability of state conflicts of interest laws and constitutional provisions to the practice of legislative control over redistricting. Finally, Part III takes a close look at the Virginia General Assembly Conflicts of Interest Act and analyzes what a legal challenge under this statute might entail, including an assessment of potential remedies.