"There is no mandate whatsoever, and I think correctly, to draw districts that are politically more competitive and reverse, social-engineer districts to have a 50-50 split," said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Still, the commission stands as "the best example against the incumbent protection plan that was in place before and is still in place elsewhere because it's driven by people who aren't incumbents and don't have incentives to pay back into the political system," he said.
The new primary system in California, where the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation, resulted in nine of the state's districts having candidates of the same party facing off in November. Seven of those races featured two Democrats.
The effect of the redrawn lines were no more obvious than in the ouster of Democratic Rep. Howard Berman from Congress after 30 years of service. While Berman in 2001 helped draw himself and fellow Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman safe seats in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, the citizens' panel carved out a new Latino-dominated district in the area and put both incumbents into a separate one. Sherman, who's served in the House since 1997, defeated Berman in November.
"The most offensive gerrymander of the last decade has been the preservation of white, liberal seats around Los Angeles to the downside of Latino seats," said Stutzman. "And the fact that you had Berman and Sherman drawn together is a great example of what should have been done a decade ago but was protected."
The new seat was won by Rep. Tony Cardenas, a Democrat who is the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley in the House.
Four other states — Iowa, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island — have advisory panels that help draw districts that later must be approved by state lawmakers.
Iowa uses an advisory board of state civil servants and a non-partisan commission to draft boundaries. Board members are barred from considering incumbents' home addresses, voter registration data and election results in the map-making. Iowa lawmakers have never rejected the recommendations since the procedure was put in place in 1980.