Gerrymandering has long been considered to be anti-democratic and an effective voter suppression tool. Particularly after the 2010 Census and with the Republicans in control of so many state legislatures, gerrymandering happened everywhere.
In a true representative democracy, politicians should not be drawing district lines to choose their voters. No–we the people should be choosing our politicians. And people pushed back against these gerrymandered maps. Lawsuits were filed, but they can take a while to get to the Supreme Court. Now, once again, we have some cases involving disputed maps that have made their way to the Court.
This past week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving gerrymandering, one in North Carolina and one in Maryland. They will hear the cases in March. In both cases, you have parties charging that the maps that were drawn created as many safe congressional districts as possible to benefit a political party.
Just last year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two other cases involving partisan bias in redistricting, but after listening to the arguments, sent the cases back down to the lower courts without making their own ruling. To date, SCOTUS has not determined how, or if, the Court should be involved with such maps, and if they are involved, what standard they should use to determine that a map is not partisan.
The North Carolina case is Rucho v. Common Cause; the Maryland case is Lamone v. Benisek.
The question is now if the Supreme Court will act any differently this time.
Is anything different this time?
The big difference this time is that instead of having the swing vote of Justice Kennedy on the Court, we now have Brett Kavanaugh in his place. (I still can’t bring myself to put Justice in front of his name.) It seems reasonable to assume that the other Justices might once again send the cases back down to the lower court, so all eyes will be on Kavanaugh during the hearings.
Second, is that the previous cases brought to the Court were all Republican gerrymanders. This time, we have one gerrymander for each party–the North Carolina map is a Republican gerrymander, and the Maryland map is a Democratic gerrymander. If the Justices do decide to rule on these cases, the ruling will apply to both maps. I can’t imagine a scenario right now where Chief Justice John Roberts would allow the two maps to be treated differently. He is clearly concerned about the Court being seen as political.
There won’t be any more news about these cases until March. If you want to learn a bit more about the ins and outs of the legal decisions that have led up to this point, I highly recommend the SCOTUS Blog. In fact, they’re a great blog to follow in general.