SCOTUS to decide two big cases on partisan gerrymandering

Heading into the final weeks of its term, the Supreme Court is set to decide two cases that may have a huge impact on our elections.

At issue is the practice of partisan gerrymandering – drawing congressional district lines that favor one party or the other.  The practice is as old as America itself, but in the last few decades, the ability of the parties to carve out safe seats (seats where an incumbent is virtually guaranteed victory) has never been easier.  Reams of census data combined with voting records allows the parties to draw lines with surgical precision. 

The court will try to come to grips with the problem.

The Hill:

Kennedy signaled at the time that while the court did not have a clear solution then, one could be found eventually. 

"That no such standard has emerged in this case should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future," he said.

But it's anyone's guess whether Kennedy and other justices have since settled on a standard.

"Legislators have taken advantage of computer mapping and the ability to identify the likely votes of virtually every voter to really warp the democratic system, and I think the court recognizes that – or at least five justice recognize that," said David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Democrats are always claiming that the GOP targets minorities to dilute district voting.  Republicans claim partisanship as well.

The court has two cases before it to resolve in the coming weeks – Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin's 2011 redistricting plan, and Benisek v. Lamone, a challenge to the lines of Maryland's 6th District, currently represented by Rep. John Delaney (D).

In the Wisconsin case, Democratic voters argue that the Republican-controlled legislature drew the districts with a discriminatory intent to dilute the Democrats' voting power throughout the state.

In Maryland, Republicans are the ones arguing Democrats put them at a disadvantage.  They claim top Democrats in the state in 2011 drew the district lines intentionally to dilute the votes of Republicans and their support for the incumbent, then-Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R).

The Supreme Court has yet to rule in either case, despite having heard arguments in the Wisconsin challenge on the second day of the court's term last year.

Adam Feldman, the creator and author of the blog Empirical SCOTUS, said that only 10 cases have taken longer to decide since 1946. 

"I have to think the hold up is that they're trying to decide these cases together and they're having an issue with Gill," he told The Hill.

Mixed up in the answer to this dilemma are the "one man, one vote" rulings by the Supreme Court in the 1960s.  Southern states used to deliberately dilute the black vote by drawing lines to prevent black representation.  The rulings have resulted in several cases where GOP-drawn districts were overturned, despite evidence that concentrating the black vote in a few districts actually leads to fewer black representatives.

As long as the parties are able to use computers to draw district lines, gerrymandering will be with us.  But if SCOTUS can come up with a basic standard, it should result in fewer challenges.  It could also simplify the redistricting process and lessen confusion.

I happen to think the current system favors Democrats, and recent court cases would confirm that.  But creating a clear standard by which the lines can be drawn with rough equality would probably help Republicans more.

Heading into the final weeks of its term, the Supreme Court is set to decide two cases that may have a huge impact on our elections.

At issue is the practice of partisan gerrymandering – drawing congressional district lines that favor one party or the other.  The practice is as old as America itself, but in the last few decades, the ability of the parties to carve out safe seats (seats where an incumbent is virtually guaranteed victory) has never been easier.  Reams of census data combined with voting records allows the parties to draw lines with surgical precision. 

The court will try to come to grips with the problem.

The Hill:

Kennedy signaled at the time that while the court did not have a clear solution then, one could be found eventually. 

"That no such standard has emerged in this case should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future," he said.

But it's anyone's guess whether Kennedy and other justices have since settled on a standard.

"Legislators have taken advantage of computer mapping and the ability to identify the likely votes of virtually every voter to really warp the democratic system, and I think the court recognizes that – or at least five justice recognize that," said David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Democrats are always claiming that the GOP targets minorities to dilute district voting.  Republicans claim partisanship as well.

The court has two cases before it to resolve in the coming weeks – Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin's 2011 redistricting plan, and Benisek v. Lamone, a challenge to the lines of Maryland's 6th District, currently represented by Rep. John Delaney (D).

In the Wisconsin case, Democratic voters argue that the Republican-controlled legislature drew the districts with a discriminatory intent to dilute the Democrats' voting power throughout the state.

In Maryland, Republicans are the ones arguing Democrats put them at a disadvantage.  They claim top Democrats in the state in 2011 drew the district lines intentionally to dilute the votes of Republicans and their support for the incumbent, then-Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R).

The Supreme Court has yet to rule in either case, despite having heard arguments in the Wisconsin challenge on the second day of the court's term last year.

Adam Feldman, the creator and author of the blog Empirical SCOTUS, said that only 10 cases have taken longer to decide since 1946. 

"I have to think the hold up is that they're trying to decide these cases together and they're having an issue with Gill," he told The Hill.

Mixed up in the answer to this dilemma are the "one man, one vote" rulings by the Supreme Court in the 1960s.  Southern states used to deliberately dilute the black vote by drawing lines to prevent black representation.  The rulings have resulted in several cases where GOP-drawn districts were overturned, despite evidence that concentrating the black vote in a few districts actually leads to fewer black representatives.

As long as the parties are able to use computers to draw district lines, gerrymandering will be with us.  But if SCOTUS can come up with a basic standard, it should result in fewer challenges.  It could also simplify the redistricting process and lessen confusion.

I happen to think the current system favors Democrats, and recent court cases would confirm that.  But creating a clear standard by which the lines can be drawn with rough equality would probably help Republicans more.