With protestors rallying outside and a packed house inside, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over the legality of “extreme” partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.
The court has taken up a suit, Gill v. Whitford, that alleges partisan gerrymandering in the redrawing of legislative districts in Wisconsin. The court is mulling whether enforceable standards can be set limiting political influence over the drawing of districts. Conservatives on the court are unsure that can be done, while liberals argued that not doing it undercuts the theory of democracy.
Much of Tuesday’s arguments were aimed at Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely considered the swing vote in the case.
The Supreme Court’s decision could have ramifications for legislative districts in Alabama and 20 other states.
In Alabama, legislators drew new House and Senate districts after the 2010 Census, but a court ordered them to redraw 12 districts deemed to be the result of racial gerrymandering.
The issue is whether the redistricting packed too many minority voters in too few districts. Opponents of the plan argue that if fewer black voters – just enough to influence the election – were assigned to more districts, they would have a strong voice in the selection of more legislators.
The Legislature adopted new districting maps this spring that redraw 25 of the 35 Senate districts and 70 of the 105 House districts. Unsatisfied, the Legislative Black Caucus challenged the plans, but a three-judge panel threw out the challenge, saying it was untimely, that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue over some areas, and that the plaintiffs had not provided a standard that could be used to show the districts being challenged were gerrymandered.
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in the spring.
Race and the Alabama Legislature, Volatile Mix in Redrawing Political Map
A Fix for Racial Gerrymandering? Legislators to Debate Whether New Plan Cures Voting District Problems
Legislature OKs Redistricting Plan on Last Day of the Session
National Coverage of U.S. Supreme Court Case
Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics (New York Times)
Kennedy is Key to Supreme Court Outcome on Partisan Maps (Associated Press)
With Wisconsin case, Supreme Court Takes up Partisan Gerrymandering (Christian Science Monitor)
Supreme Court Appears Divided Over Gerrymandering (Wall Street Journal)
Transcript of the Arguments (Wall Street Journal)