Masking Up

    Masks were necessary, especially in schools, to prevent mass deaths. Or so we were told, at great and tedious length — until suddenly in the last two weeks, they weren’t.

    The Democratic governors of Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and California have followed the lead of the newly installed Republican governor of Virginia and revoked mask mandates.

    Let’s pivot to another subject on which liberal commentators formerly raised alarms. Getting rid of gerrymandering, they asserted, was necessary to preserve democracy and prevent its overthrow by the forces of repression and one-party dictatorship.

    It turns out those alarms are suddenly, to borrow a Watergate word, inoperative. The turning point may have come this month when David Wasserman, the Cook Political Report’s ace redistricting honcho, tweeted his state-by-state accounting that showed Democrats with a two- to three-seat gain in U.S. House redistricting in the cycle following the 2020 census.

    Republicans control legislatures and governorships in states with more House districts than Democrats. But they are failing to make the redistricting gains they did following the 2000 and the 2010 censuses.

    Why has this happened? One reason is that Democratic redistricters have simply been more ruthless than Republicans, starting with Illinois and its early filing deadline on March 14. Democrats drew “bacon-strip” districts heading 100 miles out from Chicago wards to the open prairie and downstate districts that stitch together small factory or university towns along highway right-of-ways. Thus they increased Democrats’ edge from 13-5 to 14-3 [Illinois is losing one district].

    New York Democrats did even better. Their edge went from 19-8 to 22-4 [New York is losing one district], thanks to a plan linking conservative Staten Island with Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope and gave House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler a district that snakes from the palisades of Upper Manhattan to the beaches of Bensonhurst.

    This seems like an obvious violation of New York law, but those familiar with how New York courts handle election law have little doubt it will stand.

    Similarly, the Democratic-majority North Carolina Supreme Court has overturned a Republican redistricting plan based on the court’s 2019 criteria on an entirely inconsistent theory. For Democrats, redistricting seems to be an exercise in “heads I win, tails you lose.”

    In contrast, the Republican-majority Ohio Supreme Court has overturned a partisan Republican map based on similar provisions. Texas Republican legislators concentrated on strengthening Republican incumbents rather than ousting Democrats.

    The creation of purportedly nonpartisan redistricting commissions doesn’t end partisan gerrymanders. Democrats have succeeded in gaming supposedly neutral commissions this cycle in California, Michigan, and New Jersey.

    Those who have lamented that partisan redistricting means one-party control have some historical precedent for their argument. As I documented in successive editions of The Almanac of American Politics, Democrats’ partisan redistricting helped them maintain majorities in the House of Representatives from 1964 through 1994.

    That hasn’t worked for Republicans. Political realignments have frustrated even the most ruthless redistricters and may do so again.

    The waning prominence of Donald Trump may turn some affluent Biden 2020 districts Republican again. Or the post-Biden emergence of someone like the 1992 Bill Clinton may turn some populist Trump 2020 districts once again Democratic. Or voters could start splitting their tickets again.

    My prediction is that by 2030, masking of schoolchildren will be seen as a relic of a remote and superstitious past and that the 2020 partisan redistrictings of legislatures and “apolitical” commissions alike will have been rendered meaningless by the voters.

    Michael Barone is with the American Enterprise Institute ( in Washington. A longer version of this article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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