As an increasing number of lower courts rule against election lines drawn for partisan purposes, the situation begs for the U.S. Supreme Court to provide guidance as to what’s legal and what’s not.
In the past couple of weeks, federal judges in Ohio and Michigan have ordered legislatures in those states to redraw, before next year’s elections, voting lines that were skewed to give Republican candidates a considerable edge.
These rulings come on top of earlier cases — from Wisconsin, Maryland and North Carolina — in which the question was the same: When voting lines are drawn for partisan advantage, is it just as unconstitutional as when they are drawn for racial advantage?
The lower courts have been answering the question “yes,” but the Supreme Court has yet to provide unequivocal guidance.
The justices are on record saying that political gerrymandering can violate the Constitution’s one-person, one-vote principle if it becomes too extreme, but to date they have been unable to agree on how much gerrymandering is too much.
It was hoped that last summer some clear direction would come from the high court, but the justices punted the question on a technicality.
That bought some time for the justices, but no more than that, as these cases keep coming forward through the lower courts.
Most of the lawsuits have been over Republican-driven gerrymandering, an outgrowth of the national GOP strategy a decade ago to concentrate heavily on winning state legislative races so as to control the mapping process for statehouse and congressional districts after the 2010 census.
Democrats, though, have also shown themselves capable of the same mischief when they’ve had majority control. The Maryland case, for example, is over congressional lines drawn by Democrats to help Democrats.
A number of states are trying to do better. Seven states presently use a nonpartisan or bipartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional lines; six others use a commission for legislative lines only.
Even before Michigan and Ohio lost in the courts, they were already scheduled to implement reforms designed to reduce or eliminate politically tilted redistricting following the 2020 census.
A Supreme Court decision that unequivocally outlaws partisan gerrymandering would provide the impetus for more states to go the commission route.