Lawsuit Would Fix Montana’s Disadvantage in the U.S. House

By Beacon Staff

It is well known that rural states have disproportionate power in the U.S. Senate (every state gets two senators, no matter the size). What’s less known is that the House is also extremely lopsided, and not in the way you might expect.

Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg has the second-highest number of constituents in Congress – the entire population of Montana, or 958,000 people, according to the latest Census data. Only Nevada’s 3rd District, encompassing 960,000 people, is bigger. Both districts are nearly twice as populous as the one in Wyoming and the two in Rhode Island.

And as the House begins patching together new congressional districts as the 2010 Census approaches, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court to fix the disparity.<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/us/politics/18baker.html?hp" title=" From the New York Times:”> From the New York Times:

That 400,000-person disparity between top and bottom has generated a federal court challenge that is set to be filed Thursday in Mississippi, charging that the system effectively disenfranchises people in certain states. The lawsuit asks the courts to order the House to fix the problem by increasing its size from 435 seats to at least 932, or perhaps as many as 1,761. That way, the plaintiffs argue, every state can have districts that are close to parity.

But few believe the American people, or congressmen, are in the mood to dramatically expand the chamber:

Of course, a larger House may not thrill Americans who are tired of Congress, and may make an already unwieldy body more so. “You may create a more equitable system that’s less governable, and I’m not sure the country comes out ahead,” said Kenneth Prewitt, a former Census director who now teaches at Columbia University.

Aside from the logistical challenges and expense of accommodating two or three times as many representatives on Capitol Hill, the idea would certainly be resisted by incumbents who jealously guard their authority. “It dilutes your own power,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Read the entire story here.