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Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Partisan Gerrymandering

In Gill v. Whitford the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether and when it is possible to bring a claim that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

While the Court has repeatedly struck down district maps that rely on racial gerrymandering, it has never ruled that maps drawn to secure partisan advantage are unconstitutional. In 2004, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy – who may be the deciding vote in Whitford – wrote a concurring opinion indicating that partisan gerrymandering could be unconstitutional.

In 2011, Wisconsin legislators redrew state assembly districts to reflect population changes recorded in the 2010 census. Map makers used a model designed to predict the likelihood that various proposed districts would elect a Republican. In the 2015 election, Republican candidates received less than 49% of the statewide vote and won seats in more than 60% of the state’s assembly districts; and, in 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats for Republicans.

The challengers propose a standard for determining the influence of partisan gerrymandering in the district-drawing process. Drawn from a 2015 article written by a University of Chicago law professor and a lawyer for the challengers, the standard is based on “wasted votes”–votes in each district cast for a non-winning party’s candidate. By dividing the difference between the sums of each party’s wasted votes by the total number of votes cast, the proposed standard yields an efficiency gap. Continue reading

 

North Carolina Loses Supreme Court Redistricting Case

North Carolina has had a tough time in the Supreme Court in the last two weeks. Last week the Court refused to review the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision holding that North Carolina’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act. This week it concluded two congressional districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Cooper v. Harris raises an issue litigated over and over since the 2010 census. Challengers claim the North Carolina legislature unconstitutionally packed minority voters into a few legislative districts to lessen their ability to influence races in other districts. The Supreme Court agreed, holding 5-3 that a North Carolina District Court correctly ruled that North Carolina relied too heavily on race in designing two majority-minority congressional districts. Continue reading

 

SCOTUS to Decide “Catch-22” or “You Only Have Yourself to Blame” Redistricting Case

Is the North Carolina legislature in a “Catch-22” or are its problems entirely of its own making? The Supreme Court might weigh in on these questions in McCrory v. Harris.

McCrory v. Harris is a typical redistricting case in at least two respects. First, it raises so many legal issues that it is impossible to know what the Supreme Court will focus on. Second, beyond all the technical legal arguments, plaintiffs’ fundamental objection to the redistricting plan is familiar:  they claim the legislature packed minority voters into safe minority districts under the guise of complying with the Voting Right Act (VRA) to reduce minority voters’ influence in other districts. North Carolina claims it is caught in a “Catch-22.” Continue reading

 

Local Governments May (Continue to) Redistrict Based on Total Population

In what has been described as the most important “one-person, one-vote” case since the Supreme Court adopted the principle over 50 years ago, the Court held that states may apportion state legislative districts based on total population. Local governments may do the same. 

 The Court’s opinion in Evenwel v. Abbott is unanimous. All 50 states currently use total population to design state legislative districts; only seven adjust the census numbers “in any meaningful way.”   Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Looks for a Compromise in Significant Redistricting Case

Today was a big day for redistricting before the Supreme Court. The Court decided one redistricting case and heard oral argument in two others.  

 Texas, like all other states, redistricts based on total population data from the census. A number of Texas voters argue that state legislative districts deviate from the ideal by as much as 45 percent when voting population is used. At oral argument today in Evenwel v. Abbott Justices Kennedy, frequently the Court’s “swing” vote in high-profile cases, asked whether both metrics can be used to comply with one-person, one-vote. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court to Decide Another Redistricting Case

While the Supreme Court’s recent grant of certiorari in Evenwel v. Abbott asks one of the biggest questions about redistricting (who exactly is counted to determine one-person-one-vote), the question the Supreme Court will decide in Shapiro v. Mack is much more modest.

Federal law (the Three-Judge Act) requires three-judge panels to decide constitutional challenges to congressional and legislative redistricting. But the single judge to whom the request for a three-judge panel is made may determine that three judges are not required to decide the case.   Continue reading