In the 2012 House elections, Democratic candidates got 1.4 million more votes than Republicans (roughly 59.6 million to 58.2 million), but won 33 fewer congressional seats, the result of a highly coordinated GOP effort to raise political gerrymandering to a level never seen before. On May 22, the Supreme Court handed down a significant decision, in a case called Cooper v. Harris, that could help chip away at that anti-democratic success. Two even more significant cases could come to fruition in the coming months. Former Attorney General Eric Holder called the Cooper decision “a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering.” Holder, who now chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, went on to say, “North Carolina’s maps were among the worst racial gerrymanders in the nation. Today’s ruling sends a stark message to legislatures and governors around the country: Racial gerrymandering is illegal and will be struck down in a court of law.”
Despite Holder’s strong praise, on its face, Cooper v. Harris seems based a relatively well-developed aspect of election law. But in two footnotes, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, moves substantially toward treating race and party as proxies for one another, an important concept that could go a long way toward furthering cases against political gerrymandering, especially in the South.
This is a hotbed area of litigation right now, as can be seen from the Brennan Center’s April update, “The State of Redistricting Litigation,” covering a number of cases in eight states, the vast majority involving either racial gerrymandering, partisan gerrymandering or both. Most of those cases also involve maps drawn by Republicans, though not all.