Published: Fri, June 22, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Justices leave door open to curbing partisan districts

Justices leave door open to curbing partisan districts

The case: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court's decision declining to grant a preliminary injunction against continued use of the 6th Congressional District boundaries adopted in 2011.

In a concurring opinion, the court's four liberal justices laid out a road map for a challenge to reach the Supreme Court. Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court in February temporarily blocked portions of a lower court's decision redrawing state legislative districts. In this case, it was Republican voters who felt they had been unfairly discriminated against by a map that favored Democrats.

The district stretches from the liberal Washington suburbs of Montgomery County to conservative western Maryland. States might consider changing how votes are tabulated or appointing an independent commission to redraw the lines. In Ohio, advocates got a measure on this year's ballot created to give both parties a voice in drawing the state's congressional map.

Wisconsin Democrats, as a recent Politico article points out, are rebuilding their party after a sobering 2016 presidential election.

In a friend of the court brief, Common Cause said Democrats decided "to take a meat cleaver and chop the Sixth District nearly in half".

Democrats hoped a Wisconsin case would be the vehicle the US Supreme Court would use to strike down highly partisan gerrymandering of electoral maps.

The court cases will continue, while others are waiting in the wings, according to press releases by the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Cause.

But Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School, was more optimistic for the challengers, seeing Monday's decision as "a short-term stumble on the way to a long-term victory".

Roberts kept his opinion focused on the specifics of the Wisconsin case and did not lament the effects of gerrymandering or offer advice for future plaintiffs.


The cases are among several that have been winding their way through the court system, eight years after the 2010 Census provided the basis for the last round of legislative redistricting.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch would have dismissed the case without giving the plaintiffs another chance to prove standing. It is also the goal of the Republicans who brought suit the Maryland suit drawn by Republicans that drew a popular Republican Congressman into an unwinnable district. The result was that the district went from 47 percent Republican and 36 percent Democratic to exactly the opposite.

In Wisconsin, the Democrats prevailed after a trial in which the court ruled that partisan redistricting could go too far and indeed, did in Wisconsin, where Republicans hold a huge edge in the legislature even though the state is otherwise closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.

The case: A federal lawsuit filed June 13 and backed by a national Democratic redistricting group alleges the U.S. House maps approved in 2011 illegally limit the voting influence of black residents by packing a large number into one majority-minority district and spreading other black voters out among multiple districts.

In addition to Wisconsin and Maryland, North Carolina has a gerrymandering case making its way through the courts.

"On its most fundamental level, partisan gerrymandering violates 'the core principle ... that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around, '" the majority opinion said. "The court's constitutionally prescribed role is to vindicate the individual rights of the people appearing before it", Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote.

"This Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences", Roberts said in his opinion. "It really is about voters asking the candidates right now where they stand on this issue and voting for those candidates that will support non-partisan redistricting". "And Kagan's concurrence today makes a powerful case to Justice Kennedy that when that case comes, he should recognize that partisan gerrymandering is incompatible with the Constitution and democratic values". In the 2010 election, Republicans picked up nearly 700 state legislative seats - the largest increase in more than seven decades - and won governor's races in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

Gill involves one of the most aggressive gerrymanders in the country, a Republican gerrymander that renders the Wisconsin state assembly virtually immune from democracy.

Election reformers in both parties had hoped the justices would rein in the intensified use of partisan gerrymandering, a practice in which the party that controls a state legislature uses the process of redrawing electoral districts after the USA census every decade to tighten its grip on power by diluting the influence of voters who tend to support the rival party.

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