When Pennsylvania Democrats went to the Supreme Court in 2004 to ask that Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn congressional map be struck down as an unfair partisan gerrymander, they drew opposition from an unexpected source: fellow Democrats. Alabama Democrats told the court in a brief they were concerned that ending partisan gerrymandering would “undermine … the ability of African Americans in Alabama to continue the effective exercise of their newly won ability to participate in the political process.” In 2001, they pointed out, “African-American representatives pulled, hauled, and traded with their white colleagues” to achieve greater representation. In short, political gerrymandering — in which it was taken for granted that Democrats sought an advantage — helped maximize the voice of African Americans.
Flash forward 13 years. Echoes of the same argument are being heard again as the Supreme Court once weighs the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering — this time in the pivotal Gill v. Whitford case, involving Wisconsin’s political map. The oral argument took place last week. (In the 2004 case, the court deadlocked badly, failing to agree on where to draw the line on gerrymandering.)
Now it is the National Republican Congressional Committee that argues that ending political gerrymandering would hurt African Americans. “A [proposed] test for partisan gerrymandering creates conflicts between districting and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act gives courts the power, in some circumstances, to require the creation of majority-minority districts, to ensure minority voters have an equal chance to participate in the political process.