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Linda F. Smith: Utah’s congressional districts should not be sliced like a pizza. Again.

Splitting communities of interest violates Utah law and the founders’ intentions for Congress.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights talks concerned Utah voters Teresa Carlson and Helen Moser with the League of Women Voters about possible partisan gerrymandering of the redrawn redistricting lines. Riebe was joined by Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City and Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper to emphasize the importance of the will of the voters in drawing new lines in the redistricting process, Aug. 19, 2021 at the Millcreek Library.

The rationale used to justify the 2011 apportionment of congressional districts in Utah — that all districts should have both rural and urban areas — should not be relied upon this time. That rationale is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, with the original intent of the framers of the Constitution and with state statute.

In 2011, Republican leaders of the redistricting effort stated that it was in the state’s interest to have “a congressional delegation that is representing all the interests of the state” and that would most likely happen if all districts had rural and urban areas. The result was the “‘pizza slice’ approach” which cut Salt Lake County into three chunks, grafting two of them onto vast tracts of rural Utah.

The idea that each congressional district should represent both rural and urban areas and each congressperson must concern him or herself with statewide issues is inconsistent with the constitutional framework for Congress and inconsistent with the framers’ intent.

The U.S. Constitution provides that the House of Representatives shall be chosen “by the People of the several States ... according to their respective Numbers,” and that each state — irrespective of population — shall have two senators.

The Federalist Papers describe the framers’ intention that each congressperson be close to the people and emphasize the need for the congressperson to understand local interests.

“Divide the largest State into ten or twelve districts, and it will be found that there will be no peculiar local interests in either, which will not be within the knowledge of the representative of the district.” — Federalist No. 56 (emphasis added).

“The representatives of each State will ... bring with them a considerable knowledge of its laws, and a local knowledge of their respective districts.” — Federalist No. 56 (emphasis added).

While the original Constitution provided that the state legislature would elect the senators, that idea was rejected for representatives. Selection of representatives should not be “submitted ... to the legislative discretion of the States, ... and for the additional reason that it would have rendered too dependent on State governments that branch of the federal government which ought to be dependent on the people alone.” — Federalist No. 52.

Both the plain language of the Constitution and the framers’ intent are for senators to represent the state, and congresspeople to represent the people in their district — not the state as a whole or the interests of the entire state.

Utah law requires the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission to develop maps that are “contiguous and reasonably compact” and in doing so to consider the following standards: preserving communities of interest; following natural, geographic, or man-made features, boundaries, or barriers; preserving cores of prior districts; minimizing division of municipalities and counties across multiple districts; and prohibiting the purposeful or undue favoring or disfavoring of an incumbent elected official, a candidate or prospective candidate or a political party.

The 2011 redistricting did not create districts that were “reasonably compact,” failed to “preserve communities of interest” and failed to “minimize division of ... counties” by dividing Salt Lake County into three different districts.

This decade we should stay true to the framers’ intent and reject any attempt to carve up another pie designed to have each congressperson represent the entire state.

Linda F. Smith

Linda F. Smith, Salt Lake City, is a professor emerita of the University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law. These opinions are her own and not to be attributed to the university or its law school.

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