When future generations study American history, they will need to memorize all the important dates. July 4th 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. June 6th 1944, the D-Day invasion. January 20th 2013, the inauguration of Sarah Palin.

But one date will be remembered more fondly than the rest, and that date is March 18 2010, the date of the Fourth Annual William and Mary Election Law Symposium.

Yes, the Symposium was a resounding success.  The turnout was great, our speakers were insightful, and the cheese and wine reception was delicious.

We’ll link to a video of the Symposium as soon as it can be uploaded.  Sometime shortly after that, we’ll post a full transcript.  Until then, here’s a brief summary of the day’s discussion.

Our three speakers were Trevor Potter, Jessica Amunson, and J. Gerald Hebert.  The discussion was moderated by John Hardin Young.

Trever Potter began the Symposium with a discussion of the history of redistricting in America.  He pointed out that a mere 50 years ago, nobody would have thought to have a conversation about redistricting. Until 1962, the Supreme Court had ruled that how states arranged their districts (apportionment) was a political question, best left to the other branches of government.

But in Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the Court reversed its position and allowed judicial intervention in apportionment cases.  The courts therefore had to establish standards by which  the constitutionality of the district could be determined.  Most notably, the Supreme Court declared the “one man, one vote” principle, which required that districts be drawn in such a way as to have relatively equal populations, so that no person’s vote “counted more” just because they were in a less populated district.

Gerry Hebert spoke next, about how legislators tackle the problem of redistricting and dividing populations into tidy little districts.  Legislators get a great deal of information from the census and other sources, including individual voting histories and racial voting patterns.  Since redistricting is so critical to protecting incumbency, legislators will spend hundreds of thousands to hire a professional redistricting team to ensure the creation of districts that will withstand legal challenges.

Finally, Jessica Amunson spoke about redistricting reform and the future of redistricting.  She noted that over 41 states had redistricting related litigation last census, and she expects that number to rise in the coming year.  Much of that litigation ended with the courts having to redraw the districts, using standards and goals that are often contradictory.  For example, the courts have recognized that incumbency protection is valid justification for drawing a district a certain way (as incumbents get more important positions on legislative committees), but courts also recognize the importance of ensuring partisan fairness and competitiveness.

The three speakers then took questions from the audience on a wide variety of census and redistricting related topics.

Then everyone got to enjoy delicious wine.

All in all, everybody had a great time, and we hope that next year’s Symposium will be even better.

Check back next week for a video and full transcript of the Symposium.

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