Partisan Gerrymandering Returns to a Transformed Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — The last Supreme Court term ended that has a constitutional cliffhanger. In a pair of cases which had the potential to reshape American democracy, the justices refused to decide whether election maps can be so warped by politics which they violate the Constitution.

Instead, the court said, in essence, “Come back next term.”

Next week, a year after the court last heard arguments over whether extreme partisan gerrymandering can cross a constitutional line, the justices will again consider the question.

nevertheless something fundamental has changed. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whose vote was seen as crucial to any decision putting limits on partisan gerrymandering, retired last summer.

In Supreme Court litigation, as in so many things, timing is usually everything. Had Justice Kennedy stayed on the court, there are not bad reasons to think he would likely have been particularly receptive to the plaintiffs’ arguments in one of next week’s cases.

The Republican lawmakers who drew the state’s congressional map in 2016 could hardly have been more blatant. They explained which the state’s congressional delegation, in a purple state in which neither party had a distinct edge, was at the time made up of 10 Republicans as well as three Democrats. A key goal, they said, was “to maintain the current partisan makeup of North Carolina’s congressional delegation.”

Representative David Lewis, a Republican member of the General Assembly’s redistricting committee, elaborated.

“I think electing Republicans is usually better than electing Democrats,” he said. “So I drew This kind of map to help foster what I think is usually better for the country.”

The Supreme Court has never struck down a voting map on the grounds which the idea was drawn to amplify the power of the political party in control of the state legislature. nevertheless Justice Kennedy, in his questions last term as well as in a 2004 concurring opinion, left the door open to the possibility which some kinds of political gamesmanship may be too extreme.

In their Supreme Court brief, North Carolina lawmakers asked the court to close which door. The Constitution, they wrote, contemplated a role for politics in redistricting by assigning the task to state legislatures, adding which federal courts have no role to play in supervising the legislatures’ judgments.

“The time has come,” they wrote, “with This kind of court to make clear which the Constitution does not provide courts with the tools or the responsibility to say how much partisan motivation is usually too much.”

The lawmakers warned the Supreme Court which its authority would likely be threatened if the idea were seen to be producing political choices. which was an echo of comments coming from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. within the argument within the Wisconsin case.

“We will have to decide in every case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win,” he said, adding, “as well as which is usually going to cause very serious harm to the status as well as integrity of the decisions of This kind of court within the eyes of the country.”

Partisan gerrymandering is usually almost as old as the nation, as well as both parties have used the idea. Indeed, in a companion case coming from Maryland which will be argued the same day as the one coming from North Carolina, Republican voters are challenging a district drawn by Democratic lawmakers.

nevertheless in recent years, as Republicans captured state legislatures around the country, they have been the primary architects as well as beneficiaries of partisan gerrymandering. Using increasingly sophisticated software, they have drawn voting districts to favor their party’s candidates.