Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Supreme Court punts on gerrymandering cases but leaves door open to proposed formula measuring partisanship

The U.S. Supreme Court punted Monday on two potentially landmark gerrymandering cases, sending both back to lower courts for further consideration on procedural grounds. "The justices left the door open for future challenges to partisan gerrymanders. But as a result of Monday’s technical resolutions, both states’ maps will be intact for the 2018 elections, and the status quo remains," Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post.

In the Maryland case, Democrats had redrawn congressional districts in an effort to regain two traditionally Republican districts. "The difficulty with the Maryland case, the court said in the unsigned opinion, is that it concerned a request from challengers that courts step in now to keep 2018 elections from being held in districts that have been in place since 2011," Barnes reports. "There was no reason to do that before a trial has taken place." The court voted 7-2 to send it back.

The second case, centered on the Republican-controlled Wisconsin state legislature's 2011 redrawing of congressional districts, is potentially more significant. The lower court concluded that the redrawn map favored Republicans and couldn't be explained by nonpartisan reasons, and cited a formula that the plaintiffs offered to measure the partisanship of redistricting,

But the formula looked at the statewide impact, and Chief Justice John Roberts said the plaintiffs hadn't shown that they were hurt individually, which he said was necessary before they had standing to sue. He said the Wisconsin plaintiffs should have another chance to show a lower court they had been individually harmed. He also wrote that the problem with the proposed formula is that it measures the effect gerrymandering has on political parties, not individual voters. 

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a concurring opinion in the case that "laid out a road map for future challenges, including under a test [Justice Anthony] Kennedy has proposed: that partisan redistricting schemes might be judged as punishment for voters because of their past political allegiances, which would violate the First Amendment," Barnes reports. Kennedy "has expressed a willingness to strike down partisan gerrymanders but has yet to accept a rationale for it," Michael Wines reported for The New York Times in 2016.

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