The Constitution and Political Competition

27 Pages Posted: 9 May 2006


Competitive elections are the minimal essential element of democratic systems. They promote broad public debate, stimulate voter participation, and are the central means by which voters hold officeholders accountable. Yet as is now widely recognized, such elections are in decline in the United States, due in part to the intentional and systematic creation of artificially safe election districts.

This article provides a constitutional framework for responding to this problem. In recent years, the Supreme Court has more aggressively enforced constitutional limitations on the scope of Congress's enumerated powers. In the same way, the Court has begun to enforce limits on the Art. I, Sec. 4 power of state legislatures to set the ground rules for congressional elections. Art. 1, Sec. 4 is the only source of constitutional power states have to regulate national elections. But just as Congress' powers under Art. I are limited to the scope and purposes for which granted, the Art. I enumerated power does not authorize state legislatures to design congressional districts with the systematic and intentional aim and effect of creating artificially non-competitive election districts. Not all election districts can be made competitive, nor is competitiveness the only relevant democratic and constitutional value. But state legislative manipulation of congressional districts that intentionally and systematically aims to create overwhelmingly safe election districts is not within the purposes or scope of the power Art. I grants. More generally, Art. I is an important source of limitation on the ability of states to manipulate national elections.

Keywords: Constitution, Democracy, Elections, Political Competition, Gerrymandering, Competitive Elections

Suggested Citation

Pildes, Richard H., The Constitution and Political Competition. Nova Law Review, Forthcoming, NYU Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 06-11, Available at SSRN:

Richard H. Pildes (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
(212) 998-6377 (Phone)
(212) 995-4341 (Fax)

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