Supreme Court takes up partisan redistricting case
Supreme Court takes up partisan redistricting case
For the first time, the Supreme Court seems receptive to putting limits on partisan gerrymanders
07 October, 2017, 00:51
Contemporary gerrymanders can compound Democrats' geography-driven disadvantages. This probably contributes more to polarisation than gerrymandering does.
Kennedy asked questions only of the lawyers defending the map drawn by Wisconsin's Republicans.
Republicans now represent 13 of 18 congressional districts in Pennsylvania, despite winning about half the votes in recent elections.
Democratic and Republican critics argue that gerrymandering is becoming more extreme because it now can be guided by precise voter data and mapmaking technology, distorting the democratic process by letting politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around.
Anne Arundel County voters are among the biggest victims of the decision by the Democrats who controlled the state's line-drawing to not just slice up the jurisdiction into four of Maryland's eight congressional districts but to turn the 3rd District, which now includes Annapolis, into a meandering, peninsula-hopping monstrosity that has drawn national derision.
Still, we sympathize with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. who said Tuesday that he worries that striking down voting districts in a manner that benefits one party over another will invite criticism of the judiciary's "status and integrity".
Those arguing for changing the shape of congressional districts in Pennsylvania say there's nothing amusing about one that that's been described as appearing to look like the cartoon character Goofy kicking Donald Duck.
Wisconsin's case is unusual because it could result in a ruling that applies nationwide.
Unlike last term, when an evenly divided court sidestepped or deadlocked on many contentious cases, this term - following Justice Neil Gorsuch's April confirmation - the court runs headlong into controversy. None of the standards offered avoided "substantial intrusion into the nation's political life", he wrote in a concurrence. But gerrymandering for political reasons is a much-disdained, but entirely legal, tradition that goes back, well, to the early days of this republic.
The plaintiffs claim that day has arrived.
The answer could reshape American politics. At issue is "partisan symmetry"-the intuitive notion that political parties should derive roughly the same legislative representation from equivalent popular support". By making it likely that a higher percentage of votes for the party's candidates will be "wasted" than of votes for the other party's candidates. For example, someone drawing district lines might cluster opposition party voters together in one district in order to concentrate their votes so that they influence only a few seats. Adding up all a party's wasted votes, and dividing that sum by the total number of votes cast, yields an efficiency gap.
Redistricting typically is done by the party controlling a state's legislature.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, Wisconsin's state-assembly maps averaged an efficiency gap of 1.5% in Republicans' favour.
Acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, though a Republican, voted with Laney for more balanced legislative redistricting.
The conservative judges seemed unimpressed.
"Gerrymandering is distasteful", conservative Justice Samuel Alito said. Tuesday's arguments will illustrate why Wisconsin warns about a "social science hodgepodge".
And, as might be expected, questions from several of the Republican-named jurists showed them seeking to preserve political gerrymanders. When the Supreme Courtstruck down a California law prohibiting consumer arbitration agreements that waive consumers' rights to file a class action, such arbitration agreements ballooned.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs countered Wednesday that there are enough factual and legal differences between the two cases that the state case should be permitted to proceed.
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