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February 11, 2022

Midyear 2022: Is partisan redistricting ruining America?

Redistricting has long been a hot-button issue, but it’s become even more so in these politically charged times. Lawyers have a role in reapportionment efforts and can lend their expertise to achieve fair representation in redistricting reform throughout the country.

The American Bar Association’s Committee on Issues of Concern to the Legal Profession will present the panel “The Challenges of Partisan Redistricting – Does Gerrymandering Pose a Threat to Our Democracy?”  Feb. 14 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. CT during the ABA Virtual Midyear Meeting in Seattle.

The nation’s leading experts will engage in a dynamic examination of the issues that surround gerrymandering, such as the state of law and options for reform, the status of litigation arising out of reapportionment efforts, and the future of redistricting.

The all-star lineup includes:

  • Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law
  • Kathay Feng, national redistricting director, Common Cause
  • Philip J. Strach, partner, Nelson Mullins
  • Sam Wang, neuroscience professor and director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University

Moderator will be law professor Joanne Epps, senior adviser to the president at Temple University.

Feng says her presentation will focus on states that have designed systems through independent commissions or other mechanisms that promote fair redistricting.

“We have a lot of needs for different levels of engagement” for lawyers, Feng says. Large firms are valuable in litigation efforts, including cases in appellant courts and the Supreme Court, and individual lawyers can assist with writing amicus briefs.

Strach, who has represented Republicans in North Carolina redistricting cases for 20 years, says he holds a less partisan perspective on the issue. “Redistricting cases can be overhyped by partisans on both sides,” he says, adding that there’s a “sky is falling” rhetoric around gerrymandering cases that doesn’t help.

He hopes to have a balanced discussion among panelists “that allows us to keep redistricting in perspective. A rational, reasoned discussion can be had about what the rules are and what they should be,” he says. “We can come to a lot more common ground than people think.”

Feng, too, says such conversations have been the catalyst for reforms that have occurred in various states. “As with everything else in our vibrant democracy, if we have a deliberate conversation around it, we can produce a positive reform.”