Policy Summary
In 2010, Republicans in North Carolina won control of the state legislature and proceeded to draw the maps for the North Carolina local districts and congressional districts as required for the national decennial census. The maps were drawn to give an advantage to Republican candidates in the state. In 2016, the maps drawn in 2011 were declared unconstitutional as a racial gerrymander and struck down by the Supreme Court in Cooper v. Harris. The state congressional maps were ordered redrawn but another court challenge was brought, but this time on the grounds of a partisan gerrymander. Partisan gerrymandering is when districts are drawn to give an advantage to members of a political party over another party.

In 2010 in Maryland, the state legislature drew a state congressional map that resulted in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District essentially being drawn in a way that would favor Democratic candidates over Republican candidates for the foreseeable future. A legal challenge was brought and in 2018 a three judge federal court panel ruled Maryland’s state congressional map as drawn was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case as well as the case from North Carolina. Oral arguments for both cases were heard in March 2019 before the high court. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

The big issue to be resolved before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether problems of partisan gerrymandering should be heard by the Supreme Court (and courts, in general) at all, and if so, if there is a workable legal standard that can be used to review partisan gerrymandering claims. The oral arguments on the two cases before the justices are instructive in this matter because they reveal how the justices might rule. While no one doubts that drawing state and congressional districts is problematic because of the potential for abuse and manipulation by the political party in power, there appears to be no clear consensus on how to fix the problem. The two most recent appointments to the Supreme Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pointed out that there are other options to pursue other than through the courts – state independent redistricting commissions, state Supreme Courts and state legislatures. This would seem to indicate that the conservative voting bloc on the court might instead prefer to leave the problem of gerrymandering to the political process to solve. This approach would probably leave voters with very limited options to solve the problems through the court system.

However, Alison Riggs of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina made an impassioned plea for judicial relief at oral argument when she said, ” We’re looking for situations where the parties are being treated differently and there’s a severe and long-lasting discriminatory effect on a disfavored party.” Justice Elena Kagan also pointed out that the focus should be on the “worst of the worst” violators who are manipulating the way maps are drawn. These two statements illustrate from a more liberal view that while not every unfavorable map should be deemed an unconstitutional gerrymander that there should at least be a limiting test that reins in the most egregious violators of gerrymandering as seen in the North Carolina and Maryland cases before the court now. Ms. Riggs even suggested a vote dilution test that could be used in the most extreme cases and one which would be used in the future.

There is no way to predict with precision how the court will rule in these cases but it appears the lines have been drawn. The conservative bloc on the court seems to prefer that voters address the issues directly with representatives in their individual states and to leave it as a political issue where courts will not get involved. On the other side are those who simply want to put a stop to the most extreme situations of gerrymandering that results in “long – lasting discriminatory effects on a disfavored party.” An answer will not come until sometime this summer but it does speak to the urgent nature of this issue that prominent Republican and Democratic politicians came together to urge the court to find a way to limit the abuses of partisan gerrymandering. It is now up to the Court to see if they can fashion a solution to a centuries long uniquely American problem. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Common Cause – non – profit group’s webpage on gerrymandering and work on Rucho v. Common Cause Supreme Court gerrymandering case.
  • Brennan Center for Justice – non – profit group’s webpage on redistricting and gerrymandering issues.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

Photo by unsplash-logoWesley Tingey

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