Gerrymandering Behind Bars as The Supreme Court Steps In

Recently, a pesky fellow named Gerry Mandering had a few run-ins with the cops while he was vacationing in the exotic lands of North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Maryland. Unfortunately for Gerry, his visits were cut short by the hand of justice. Read on to find out all about Gerry’s quasi-foiled exploits, his future plans to arouse local and national turmoil, and the tireless force working to permanently apprehend him.

Gerrymandering rages rampant across the United States. A process by which legislators attempt to skew voting districts in their party’s favor, gerrymandering means that politicians re-draw district boundaries to create stacked political demographics in each district. By ensuring that the majority of voters in each newly-designated district belong to one political party, politicians of this party will have a greater chance of winning majority vote in each district, and thus winning regional elections by accumulation of won districts. Gerrymandering essentially buffers the will of voters from the legislative majority. Legislators who engage in gerrymandering often use advanced statistics, big data, and mapping technologies to analyze how districts will vote and which district maps will most favor their party. For example, Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District “consists of three oddly disjointed pieces of geography that extend from the Inner Harbor area,” according to the Almanac for American Politics. It has been named by The New Republic as the most gerrymandered district of the United States. Although partisan gerrymandering is illegal, the practice has gone largely unchecked for many years.

However, recent developments in cases surrounding federal gerrymandering point to a new surge of justice. When Republicans gained control of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011, they redrew district maps to aid Republican candidates. To successfully do so, they partially incorporated racial data in the redistricting process, as a strong correlation exists between African Americans and Democratic voters. Using this correlation, Republicans packed plausible Democrats into fewer districts. Their strategy allowed Republicans to win 10 of 13 districts in 2014. Yet on January 9, 2018, a federal court blocked North Carolina’s redistricted congressional maps, citing partisan gerrymandering and an attempt to dilute black votes. According to Judge James Wynn, Jr., this violated the 14th Amendment’s assurance of of equal protection under the law. Under Judge Wynn’s ruling, the Republican-dominated state legislators were accorded until January 24, or just over 2 weeks, to redistrict the congressional maps.

Although North Carolina Republicans planned to appeal the ruling, it likely would not amount to a change in verdict. The Supreme Court has mobilized against unjust gerrymandering in several other recent cases. In the Gill v. Whitford case of October 2017, the Supreme Court heard an appeal of a former ruling stating that Republicans had attempted to permanently gerrymander the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2011. Further, Maryland Republicans recently brought a second case to the table–Benisek v. Lamone–by citing the First Amendment to argue that Democrats had unconstitutionally gerrymandered a single district in their favor. The Supreme Court is in an ideal position to crack down on these cases, as these and other cases of partisan gerrymandering have nonrepudiably altered the face of the U.S. Congress. A Brennan Center study shows that 16 to 17 Republican seats in the current Congress were won through “extreme maps.” Accordingly, with such abnormally heavy Republican presence in the House, Democrats would need to win 24 seats to gain control of the House in 2020. Yet no universal standard currently exists to determine whether a legislative map has been unconstitutionally gerrymandered; indeed, the Supreme Court has yet to condemn a voting district for doing so. Expected to issue its ruling in June 2018 for Gill v. Whitford and to hear oral arguments in March 2018 for Benisek v. Lamone, the Supreme Court has an opportune and unparalleled chance to create such a standard.

With the 2021 redistricting quickly approaching, these Supreme Court cases will drive the future of gerrymandering regulations. Many analysts predict that as legislators and consultants gain increased access to superior technologies and voter data–including big data that helps political campaigns discover voter behavior–gerrymandering will become even more flagrantly biased. However, should the Supreme Court declare any one of these cases unconstitutional, potential regulations may be implemented to ensure legislators draw transpartisan maps in the future. Ol’ Gerry Mandering may have run his final heist.

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Mallory Matheson

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