At a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday about procedures in redistricting cases, the justices appeared to be trying to reconcile two conflicting impulses. They did not want to close the door entirely on challenges to gerrymandering, but they also did not want to be required to rule on them. Though the court has never rejected a voting district on the ground that it gave a political party an unconstitutional advantage, it has never ruled out that such a district might exist. On Wednesday, the court seemed inclined to endorse procedures that would at least treat such claims seriously by sending them to special three-judge courts created by a federal law for redistricting cases. But as the argument drew to a close, several justices voiced a competing concern — the law also allows direct appeals to the Supreme Court from rulings of the three-judge courts, meaning more work and less discretion for the justices.
The case, Shapiro v. McManus, No. 14-990, is a challenge to Maryland’s 2011 congressional maps. Democrats, the challengers said, had gone to elaborate and unconstitutional lengths to create oddly shaped districts to favor their candidates.
A single federal trial judge dismissed the case, saying it did not present issues serious enough to warrant convening a three-judge court. In the first part of the argument, several justices seemed to disagree.
“They want to raise about as important a question as you can imagine,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said of the challengers. “And if they are right, that would affect congressional districts and legislative districts throughout the nation.”