The way state legislatures draw election districts for political gain is coming to dominate the Supreme Court’s docket. The justices agreed Friday to hear two cases challenging congressional and state legislative districts in Texas, adding them to ones already pending from Wisconsin and Maryland. Other cases are brewing in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The Texas lawsuits involve more traditional challenges to the use of race in drawing district lines, something the high court deals with perennially from states with a history of violating the 1968 Voting Rights Act. By contrast, the Wisconsin and Maryland cases allege excessive political gerrymandering — designing districts to benefit one party over the other.
The Texas dispute dates back to 2011, when the GOP-dominated legislature created new congressional and state legislative districts to help Republicans, even though the growth in the state’s population was almost entirely attributable to minorities who more often vote Democratic.
A three-judge district court panel ruled last year that some national and state districts were drawn to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics, but it refused to call them political gerrymanders. Texas asked the Supreme Court to overrule the racial verdict, while the state Democratic Party sought to reverse the ruling on political claims.
The justices did not agree to hear the partisan gerrymandering case. But the Wisconsin and Maryland cases already give them an opportunity to do something they have never done: strike down election districts because of politics, rather than race.