The U.S. Supreme Court could make a decision that opens the door to new standards curbing a centuries-old practice of partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts, after it agreed Monday to hear arguments this fall on whether there are constitutional limits on whether politicians can draw legislative districts to benefit their party.
It's not the first time the issue of gerrymandering has come before the Supreme Court. Recently, the court has taken on cases of racially discriminatory gerrymandering, citing 14th Amendment equal-protection guarantees that were violated in Alabama and North Carolina, where districts were packed with too many black voters, thus diluting their influence.
Never, however, has the Supreme Court seen a map so politically motivated that it has found it unconstitutional. Gill v. Whitford, the challenge of Wisconsin's state legislative map that largely favors Republicans, however, may present the most compelling case yet to the unconstitutionality of partisan gerrymandering.
The most recent challenge, in 2004, was rejected, with the late Justice Antonin Scalia authoring an opinion that there is no "judicially enforceable limit on the political considerations that the States and Congress may take into account when districting." In a separate but concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy left the door open, writing "I would not foreclose all possibility of judicial relief if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases."
The lack of agreed-upon standards for districting that establishes "fair and effective representation for all citizens," is what has hung up previous arguments in the high court.
Lower courts ruled the Wisconsin map not only violated the 14th Amendment, but also the First Amendment, based on evidence that included a mathematical formula called the "efficiency gap" which showed the maps "have a level of bias so high that it's statistically unlikely that it's random," according to an article in Time.
Should the court consider this a fair measure of partisanship, it could lead to the Supreme Court establishing a standard of how much gerrymandering is too much.
Gerrymandering is political gamesmanship at its worst, taking the power from the voters to choose their representatives and giving it to the political parties.
And neither party is above the fray. While Republicans have largely benefited from partisan gerrymandering nationwide, Democrats have played the same games. Look no further than right here in Maryland.
Former Gov. Martin O'Malley has recently taken to calling for independent redistricting, but has admitted that while he was in office — when it mattered — he went right along with the Democrat-dominated legislatures with maps that benefited the party.
Most partisans aren't willing to muster the courage to call for taking the politics out of drawing legislative districts, especially when it would hurt their own party. While some states have already established independent redistricting committees, for most states to get on board, it will likely take action by the Supreme Court to force them to create better, less partisan rules for a corrupt process that has existed in some form for as long as politics itself.