Gerrymandering: Drawing districts for political advantage

Justices could take up high-stakes fight over electoral maps

Lawmakers at odds over redistricting

The opinions expressed are his own.

The way America conducts its elections could soon be upended by a landmark Supreme Court case.

"Texas is one of the states that has high partisan bias on its congressional map, mainly because it has not created enough Latino opportunity districts, and that has both a racial impact and a partisan impact", Li said.

While the court may rule that Gill v. Whitford may be out of its legal jurisdiction after hearing arguments, it could also create a new legal criteria for redistricting when new election maps are drawn in 2020.

A ruling that partisan gerrymanders are unlawful would dramatically recast the apportionment process and shuffle the balance of power in Congress and state legislatures. In the past, the four most conservative justices (then including Antonin Scalia) have written that the courts should stay out of the issue altogether, while the four more progressive ones have disagreed.

According to University of Chicago Law professor Nick Stephanopoulos, four of the five most gerrymandered state legislative maps on partisan grounds in the last 45 years - as well as eight of the 10 statewide maps for the U.S. House of Representatives - were drawn since 2010. Voter ID laws, campaign finance rules, and redistricting maps are all suspect when the primary motivation for them is to stay in power. We proved in federal court that Democrats and Republicans are pretty evenly clustered throughout the state and that Democrats in Wisconsin have had their rights violated. That would preserve the status quo and leave the battle over the perceived ills of partisan gerrymandering to politicians and voters. The Supreme Court has been split in the past on whether or not these primarily political decisions are best left to elected officials.

"Politicians should not be choosing their voters, voters should be choosing their politicians", she concluded.

What is at stake here, both if the U.S. Supreme Court takes this up, and if it decides not to?

HARRISBURG - The time may be ripe for the Legislature to take a crack at fixing the way districts for lawmakers are defined, said Carol Kuniho... As Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken noted in a Vox piece following the initial district court decision, a gap above that amount indicates that the disadvantaged party "would have nearly no chance of taking control of the legislature during the 10-year districting cycle".

"Democratic voters tend to be more geographically concentrated than Republican voters". But the Court has never identified an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

The Wisconsin case involves the state legislature.

"Gerrymandering" refers to the practice of drawing legislative district lines to favor incumbents, political parties or interest groups. As proof, the judge accepted a standard the Democrats offered in their lawsuit - the voting "efficiency gap".

While courts have overturned legislative district maps based on racial discrimination, judges have shied away from striking down districts drawn to maximize a party's political power.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to decide the Wisconsin case before early next year.

By taking up the case, the Supreme Court is essentially promising to rule on the merits of the efficiency gap as a means of determining whether an improper partisan gerrymander has happened - and, if one has occurred, on whether that violates either First or 14th Amendment protections. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.

"Wisconsin lawmakers have maintained that our state's redistricting process and legislative maps are legal and constitutional, and we look forward to the Court's final decision, which we are confident will affirm our position", Vos and Fitzgerald said.

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