On October 3, the United States Supreme Court listened to arguments regarding partisan gerrymandering in the state of Wisconsin. Gerrymandering is a practice in which a political party manipulates voting boundaries in order to benefit a political party. In Gill v. Whitford, a bipartisan group of voting rights advocates is accusing Wisconsin of “extreme partisan gerrymandering.” While gerrymandering on the basis of race or ethnicity has been deemed unconstitutional, partisan gerrymandering has been permitted in the past.
The court has previously heard cases that involve gerrymandering, most notably Vieth v. Jubelirer in 2004. It was decided that partisan gerrymandering is not unconstitutional.
Since that case, however, gerrymandering in the United States has become far more advanced, creating a new wave of arguments. First and foremost, the plaintiffs in Gill v. Whitford have presented an argument known as the efficiency gap. The efficiency gap is a concept, developed by two political scientists, which measures the number of votes that are “wasted” by democratic and republican voters in elections. Essentially, it measures whether a redistricting plan is biased against a party, making it pointless for the other party to vote.
There is also new technology, which enables district drawing to have perfect partisan precision. Some justices have emphasized that the court should not get involved in a field that relies so heavily on theoretical social science. Other justices have argued that this very technology could allow the court to ensure the fairness of elections.
The justice that will be monitored closely is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was viewed as the swing vote in Vieth. His stance on the issue in Gill is more cryptic, especially given his concern that partisan gerrymandering could violate the right of free association. However, he still maintains that opening the door to partisan gerrymandering would flood the Supreme Court with litigation that should be handled by the legislative branch. He is concerned about overstepping boundaries.
Regardless of this commonly held view, it is possible that the court will deal with the issue anyways. New developments in gerrymandering have ignited a fierce constitutional debate, and the legislature may lack the ability to address it. There is pressure on the court to act, and the court’s decision will drastically impact future elections across the entire country.