A year after essentially punting on the issue, the Supreme Court this week considered whether new limits on partisan gerrymandering are warranted.
The process of how congressional district maps are drawn and altered has taken on increasing importance in recent years. The Supreme Court has never struck down a voting district as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and such a ruling would likely change future political elections across the country. In order to rule definitively on future challenges, the court suggested last year it has to find a workable standard by which to test if partisan politics has played an excessive and unconstitutional role in redistricting.
On March 26, the court considered challenges to congressional district maps drawn by Republicans in North Carolina and by Democrats in Maryland. In both cases, the party leaders charged with redistricting were open about redrawing district lines to advantage their party.
The attorney arguing against the North Carolina map, Emmet Bondurant, opened his argument this week by saying, “This case involves the most extreme partisan gerrymander to rig congressional elections that has been presented to this court since the one-person/one-vote cases.”
Whether the new, more conservative Supreme Court will be willing to police gerrymandering is of intense interest to legal experts. One pivotal figure on the court who was often a swing vote on high-profile cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy, has been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the newest member of the court.
Kavanaugh was reportedly active in questioning during oral arguments this week and appeared open to the argument that extreme gerrymandering needs to be reined in.
“I took some of your argument in the briefs and the amicus briefs to be that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy, and I’m not going to dispute that,” Kavanaugh told the attorneys challenging these congressional maps.
Kavanaugh and other justices also seemed to be struggling with the lack of a clear standard for determining when gerrymandering should be characterized as “extreme.”