Gerrymandering: A GOP advantage?
The Supreme Court will soon make “one of the most important rulings on political power in decades,” said David Savage in the Los Angeles Times. The nation’s highest court has agreed to rule on whether partisa n gerrymandering—the redrawing of political districts to favor one party— is unconstitutional. The justices have previously struck down electoral maps drawn along racial lines, but never partisan ones. What’s changed? For one thing, advances in data analysis have made the practice significantly more effective. In Wisconsin, the subject of this case, Republicans won 48.6 percent of votes in 2012 state legislative races, yet “still won 60 of the 99 seats.” The plaintiffs have also cited a new “efficiency gap” formula, which measures “wasted votes”—those cast for a losing candidate, and for the winner beyond what was required to win—to calculate whether a map is unfair. Republicans have weaponized gerrymandering across the U.S., said Thomas Wolf in Time.com. One study found that up to 17 current GOP House seats were won with “extremely biased maps.”
Legislative redistricting has been “an inherently political exercise” for two centuries, said Kevin Williamson in NationalReview.com. All that’s changed is that Republicans “got really, really good at it.” Around 2009, they set themselves a “political goal”—win state legislatures, then redraw district maps in their own favor—and “they succeeded.” If whining Democrats think that’s unfair, they should make their case to voters. “Adjudicating partisanship is a mission impossible,” said Charles Lane in The Washington Post. The efficiency gap formula is inherently flawed: Democrats are naturally more concentrated in urban areas, which leads to big majorities and many “wasted” votes. If justices are constantly forced to decide “how partisan is too partisan,” they’ll become even more politicized than they are already.
“As with so much else at the high court,” said Michael Waldman in TheDailyBeast.com, this case will likely hinge on Anthony Kennedy. The swing vote justice “made clear his distaste for gerrymandering” in one recent opinion—but signed on to a dissent in another that implied some partisan gerrymanders “might be constitutionally permitted.” Whatever the court decides, states are already changing their approach. Independent commissions control the redistricting process in California and Arizona; Florida and Ohio have introduced laws to curb partisan redrawing. On this most important of issues, “reform is in the air.”