During a lull between elections, the Supreme Court is taking on a hot-button political issue that could change the way legislative lines are drawn across the country. It’s called gerrymandering — a term that arises from a district shaped like a salamander that was drawn during the 1810 term of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. Two hundred years later, legal experts are still divided on the racial and partisan considerations at issue. Earlier this month, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, tore up two congressional district maps in North Carolina, holding that they amounted to an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. “A state may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines,” she wrote, referencing a 1993 court standard, “unless it has a compelling reason.”
The ruling was a victory for Democrats and civil rights groups who had challenged the North Carolina maps arguing that they unnecessarily packed African-Americans into two districts. This made it easier for African-Americans to re-elect incumbents to those two seats, but diluted their votes in surrounding areas.
But it’s the next step the Supreme Court takes that could really change the game.