Although it has been occurring for years, the common political strategy known as gerrymandering has recently become a hot topic.
Gerrymandering is when political boundaries are drawn purposely to give a party a numeric and political advantage over an opposing party. There is no law against gerrymandering and is a technique often used by both the GOP and Democrats.
As technology advances, the easier it is to build maps giving a certain party a political advantage.
Lately, lawmakers in several states are reevaluating the maps previously drawn for the congressional districts.
Maryland is the latest state to take the gerrymandering issue to court.
In this case, Republicans are challenging the map that Democratic lawmakers and then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) made back in 2011.
“O’Malley and a redistricting advisory commission drew up a plan, and the state legislature passed it. The new map gave Democrats one additional expected seat â€• the 6th Congressional District. The change increased Democrats’ advantage over Republicans in the U.S. House delegation from 6-2 to 7-1,” writes The HuffPost.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments to reduce the political influence of the maps drawn outlining the congressional districts.
“The lawsuit, brought by seven Republican voters living in Maryland’s 6th District, turns on whether the First Amendment may be used to reject a gerrymandered map. The voters contend that Democrats in Annapolis violated their First Amendment rights with the 2011 redistricting by punishing them for their GOP voting history,” writes The Baltimore Sun. “In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, Maryland’s mapmakers turned an eight-member House delegation that was split evenly in 2000 into one that now has seven Democrats and one Republican.”
Last October, a similar case was heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and then the districts were redrawn with more of a political balance.
Then in January, Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that the current congressional districts in the state were unfair to the Democratic party. The GOP-led state Senate and House was tasked with redrawing the districts.
Although Maryland’s case is going after Democratic gerrymandering, a coalition of Republican voters argue that gerrymandering isn’t technically unconstitutional.
“Unlike the equal-protection approach to partisan gerrymandering, the First Amendment retaliation framework does not depend on a unifying definition of “fairness” or require courts to determine when a map has gone “too far.” It instead asks whether the State has imposed a real and practical burden (one that is more than de minimis) in retaliation for past political support for the opposition party. … As this Court’s ballot-access cases make clear, the inquiry is pragmatic and functional, turning not on statistical measures of imbalance, but on the practical effects of a gerrymander themselves,” writes the Republican voters in a brief.
However, Maryland’s case may have a bigger impact than prior cases.
“So Wednesday’s case, which is a challenge to a Democratic gerrymander rather than a Republican one, may be on the docket because it offers—for good or ill—a chance for the justices to come out against gerrymandering without messing with numbers,” writes The Atlantic.
Maryland’s case is to redraw just one district, unlike both the recent Pennsylvania and Wisconsin cases. The case gives the Supreme Court the chance to finally set some limits on how far gerrymandering can really go.
“A district is unconstitutional, they contend, when officials take voters’ past support for candidates into account and draw a map in such a way that dilutes their votes with no justification other than partisan gain,” writes The HuffPost about what Maryland plaintiffs are claiming. “Maryland’s lawyers responded in their brief to the Supreme Court that the plaintiffs were offering an unworkable standard that would make any district that gave either party an edge susceptible to a lawsuit from a voter in the losing party. They said the standard fails to clarify to what degree lawmakers can take politics into account when drawing electoral boundaries.”
This appears to be just the beginning and the Supreme Court is planning to officially address the gerrymandering problem.
“Taking these two cases, it’s clear that the Supreme Court wants to say something about partisan gerrymandering. We don’t quite know what that is yet, but it wants to say something about it,” said Michael Li, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “If it wanted to walk away from the issue, it wouldn’t have had to take a second case to walk away from the issue.”
Author’s note: Gerrymandering has been going on for a very long time and there seems to be dozens of “solutions,” but those solutions are temporary fixes and always benefit the party that suggests them. Will the Supreme Court decision finally offer more of a sound solution?