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Gerrymandering Is A Threat To Democracy, Eric Holder Says


Much is at stake this fall as Americans vote for Congress. But in the long term, there may be more at stake in hundreds of races that receive little national coverage. They are elections for state offices, governors and state legislators and many, many others. They will have great influence in drawing election districts, and those districts influence who can be elected to Congress and other legislatures in the future. President Obama's former attorney general, Eric Holder, notes that Republicans dominated that process after the 2010 census. He leads a group trying to give Democrats influence after 2020.

What is the problem that you're trying to address?

ERIC HOLDER: Well, we're trying to deal with the problem of partisan gerrymandering and racial gerrymandering. We saw the Republicans in 2011 use the power that they got in the 2010 election, and the redistricting occurred the year after, to draw gerrymandered seats at the state level as well as the congressional level. And so what we want to do is have in 2021 a fair process by which people will draw lines that will include Republicans and Democrats who are truly going to represent the people.

INSKEEP: Let's be blunt. When you say a fair process, do you really mean, because you're a Democrat, one that is slanted more to Democrats than to Republicans?

HOLDER: No. I'm just looking for a fair process. I think that if we have a process that is fair, Democrats and progressives as opposed to conservatives and Republicans will do just fine.

INSKEEP: Are you in this hole at least in part because, as his critics would suggest, President Obama didn't do much to build up the Democratic Party, to build up the bench at a time when Republicans and conservative groups were spending a lot of time and focus building up their bench?

HOLDER: No. I don't think I would criticize the president on that. But I would say the Democrats I don't think really have focused enough at the state and local level to the degree that Republicans did. And we have to reverse that. We have to make sure that we are focusing on every race in every state every time.

INSKEEP: So if your goal is a different map for legislative districts in 2021, what is at stake in 2018?

HOLDER: Well, we have at stake - a little less than half of the people who will be at the table in 2021 will be selected in 2018. The governors who are elected in 2018 who will be serving four-year terms will be intimately involved in the redistricting process in 2021. State legislators who are serving four-year terms and who are elected in 2018 will be at the table in 2021. So the impact that we want to have on 2021 has to begin now in 2018. And obviously, we have to have a good electoral effort as well in 2020, in addition to the lawsuits that we will be bringing and the Independent Commission efforts that we will be supporting between now and 2021.

INSKEEP: What kind of money is your organization raising, and how are you distributing it?

HOLDER: We've raised, I guess, about - I guess a little over $30 million, and we are distributing the money. We look at everything through a redistricting lens. So governors always matter; state legislators matter. But in certain states - if you look at Ohio, the state auditor, the state secretary of state, they matter. In certain places, Supreme Court justices will matter. So in North Carolina, we are supporting Anita Earls, who is running for the state Supreme Court. It's one of the reasons why we campaigned so hard for Rebecca Dallet, who won a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat.

INSKEEP: Are you campaigning for judges who are elected in many states with the explicit idea that these are judges who might someday rule the way you would like on a redistricting case?

HOLDER: No. All I'm looking for are judges who will look at the facts, look at the law and rule in a fair way. We're not trying to pick judges who will rule our way. I'm confident that, again, if you put people on the bench who will look at the laws as they have been written, look at our Constitution as it has been written, look at the state constitutions as they have been written, that we will get rulings that will be acceptable to the people generally and I think ensure a fair process.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Attorney General; you received a lot of attention particularly in conservative media for a speech you made in which you riffed off a famous remark by Michelle Obama.


HOLDER: You know, when they go low, we go high. No. No. When they go low, we kick...

INSKEEP: What did you mean?

HOLDER: Well, what I meant in that remark was that I am going to stand up very forcefully against anybody who would try to undermine our democracy, that Democrats have to be tough when it comes to confronting people like that or parties like that.

INSKEEP: As you know, there's a broad debate about how properly to be forceful. Is that something to be expressed through votes, through protests, through yelling at lawmakers at restaurants, something else? What's appropriate?

HOLDER: Well, I certainly think through votes, through protests. I say that just personally I would not be yelling at lawmakers in restaurants going to their homes. You know, I'd be going at them at the ballot box. I think it was extremely powerful when women came out the day after the Trump inauguration. I think it was very powerful when young people marched here in Washington to ask for more sane gun safety measures. Those are the kinds of ways I think in which the people should express themselves.

INSKEEP: Attorney General Holder, thanks so much.

HOLDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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