“Now For a Clean Sweep!”: Smiley v. Holm, Partisan Gerrymandering, and At-Large Congressional Elections
The 1930 Census reduced Minnesota’s apportionment in the U.S. House of Representatives from ten to nine, requiring the state to draw new congressional districts. The Republican-led state legislature passed a gerrymandered redistricting bill in an attempt to insulate its nine incumbents in the state’s delegation from the party’s expected loss of the statewide popular vote to the insurgent Farmer-Labor Party. When the Farmer-Labor Governor, Floyd B. Olson, vetoed the redistricting bill, the legislature claimed the bill could take effect without the governor’s signature. In Smiley v. Holm, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the veto was effective and that because Minnesota therefore had no validly enacted congressional districts, it must elect all nine of its congressmen at-large. In the ensuing election, voters swept from power all but two of the sitting congressmen and reduced the Republicans from nine seats to three. This Note presents a historical case study of the events surrounding Smiley and the 1932 congressional elections in Minnesota and uses it to discuss the benefits and costs of at-large elections. It determines that in this case, the at-large elections effectively blocked countermajoritarian tactics in the 1932 and subsequent elections without some of the negative consequences usually ascribed to at-large elections.