Gerrymander Judicial Update

by James Allison

As of 1/24/18 the judicial state of the American gerrymander is as follows:

Pennsylvania: The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s 2011 congressional map for the 18 House districts is a partisan gerrymander that “clearly, plainly and palpably” violates the state’s constitution.  The map cannot be used in future elections, and a new map must be submitted by February 15, else the court will decide on a map.

The state’s Republican-dominated legislature will try to overturn this ruling in federal court, but the outcome is debatable because the ruling was based entirely on the state constitution, not the federal one.   Note that a divided federal panel recently left intact the same map the state court just threw out.

Political effect could be big: Republicans now control 13/18 House seats; sans gerrymander, as many as three of those 13 could go Democratic.  Of special interest:  The state court split along party lines, 5D to 2R.  Majority opinion to come later.  Plaintiffs, who included the League of Women Voters, alleged that as many as 5 Republican seats would go Democratic if maps were neutral.  Food for thought:  Gerrymander opponents in both state and federal suits have included a First Amendment argument that partisan districting punishes one party’s voters for speaking with their votes against the other party.

North Carolina and Wisconsin: Three-judge federal panels have invalidated their congressional maps as gerrymandered for Republican benefit.  The Supreme Court of the United States has stayed those rulings while it considers cases from Wisconsin and Maryland.

Maryland: Maryland is challenging a congressional map, drawn by Democrats, that eliminated a long-time Republican district.