Supreme Court considers new limits on gerrymandering

Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts, who has emerged more as a consensus builder in recent years, has been skeptical of judicial efforts to police. | Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images


Judges will hear two cases Tuesday challenging congressional cards designed to limit party political power.


For the second consecutive year, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to impose limits on the gerrymandering of supporters – or to go in the other direction and send a message of some kind that this either to the maps before the 2020 census.

Republicans used their redistricting power in many states after the 2010 elections to strengthen control of the House of Representatives and state governments for much of the next decade. Limiting this power became a rallying cry to the left before the next round of political mapping in 2021.

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On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will examine political cards in two states where lawmakers have openly admitted to laying out congressional lines early this decade to favor a party, a practice that the court has long considered restricting.

In North Carolina, Republicans have explicitly sought to ensure that the GOP controls 10 of the state's 13 districts. In Maryland, Democrats have openly targeted a long-time Republican Congressman, changing the lines of his district to defeat him and giving Democrats a 7-1 advantage in the state.

However, a year ago, the Supreme Court denied an opportunity to revoke the Maryland Congress card or dictate firm rules as to the distance that separates the gerrymandering supporters. And a key figure will be missing in this year's cases: retired Judge Anthony Kennedy, who had skeptically looked at the districts designated to gain a partisan advantage but had never met with the majority to set standards for partisan card.

While Kennedy is replaced by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, most experts agree that new limits on gerrymandering are no more likely this time around.

"There are many plausible ways for the court to create a test and control these partisan gerrymanders," said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, who also leads the highly popular Election Law Blog . "The big question is whether the five judges are willing to do it."

Opponents of partisan gerrymandering believe that the court – despite its new, more conservative makeup – might be willing to crack down as the Maryland and North Carolina cases present such glaring examples of mapping to the benefit of one party.

"The cases before the courts now mark a new extreme of candor … in the search for a partisan advantage," said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School. "They do not have to try to understand what the legislature was doing here. The legislature said what it was doing.

In Maryland, a lower court said in the aftermath of the 2018 elections that Maryland had violated First Amendment rights from GOP voters in the state's 6th district, when it redefined the lines to overturn the seat . Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who has been with him for two decades. "It was my hope," said former Gov. Martin O'Malley in a 2017 statement. "It was also my intention to create … a district where citizens would be more inclined to elect a Democrat than a Republican. "

The seat has remained in the hands of Democrats since John Delaney, Democratic presidential nominee, defeated Bartlett in 2012.

In North Carolina, federal judges had already condemned Congress for unconstitutionally diluting the electoral power of African Americans by bringing together as many of them as possible in only two congressional districts. But when Republican state legislators redrawed the map in 2016, the state's representative, David Lewis, said the government needed to "map out" to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats "- one of the evidence that led the federal judges to strike. at the bottom of the new map as a gerrymander supporter.

"The case presents the most extreme, most overt and most brutal partisan gerrymander ever seen by this court," said Emmet Bondurant, Common Cause's attorney, who had filed a lawsuit for get the map projection of North Carolina.

But Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer with the GOP's National Republican Redistricting Trust, said the Supreme Court should not seek to exclude politics from the redistricting process, as long as lawmakers do not designate complicated districts dividing cities and counties. . are not otherwise logical.

"Is drawing for political success going well? As long as you respect the other riding principles, I think the answer is yes, "said Torchinsky.

In the end, experts say there are four judges keen to suppress criminal business practices: the liberal group of Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

On the other hand, judges Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch were skeptical of justice efforts to escape justice. It was the same for Chief Justice John Roberts, who has become a consensus player in recent years, but also voted in two key election cases, overturning elements of the Voting Rights Act in the United States. a 2013 law on the financing of campaigns in the field of Citizens United decision.

Kavanaugh, who was an appellate judge for the District of Columbia Circuit prior to his election to the Supreme Court, has not ruled on a major redistribution case, making it a kind of joker.

An exponential decision radiant supporters of party gerrymanders "now seems much less likely given the change in the composition of the court," said Hasen. "It's really going to come to Roberts and Kavanaugh."

The cases of Maryland and North Carolina are Benisek c. Lamone (18-726) and Rucho v. Common cause (18-422), respectively.

While these cases have made their way into the federal judicial system, a number of states have decided to limit the role of politics in the redistribution of constituencies. Last year, voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah endorsed the voting initiatives reforming the redistricting process, while Ohio lawmakers enacted a law modifying the redistricting process of that State.

The political struggle around these cases brings together reformers from both parties. Roy Cooper, Democratic Governor of North Carolina, and Larry Hogan, Republican Governor of Maryland, co-wrote an editorial in Monday's Washington Post under the title: "Politicians Can not Be Trusted in Drawing Electoral Cards ".

Opponents of gerrymandering fear however that a high court ruling allowing district maps drawn to maximize partisan advantage – or even another ploy, like last year – leaves both parties free to define policy lines in most states after the 2020 census. Available data and technologies offer politicians better tools than ever to choose their constituents, they say, rather than the other way around.

"If the court does not intervene here, what you've seen in North Carolina and Maryland is the new normal. It has become a "Mad Max" territory, "said Levitt. "It is very clear that lawmakers can not control themselves."

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