Now that the 2017-18 U.S. Supreme Court term has sputtered to a stop, let’s reflect on the justices’ most important decision of the year. It’s not a case in which the court issued an opinion, but rather one in which it has merely agreed to hear arguments. The most consequential decision the court made this last term was to hear arguments in a case involving the drawing of legislative district lines. Please don’t yawn. This process of drawing district lines, called redistricting, dictates who our state and federal representatives will be. Decisions regarding how we draw district lines implicate every important policy issue, from health care and immigration, to the environment and criminal justice. Because of partisan gerrymandering, many Americans don’t chose their lawmakers. Their lawmakers chose them.
First thing is first. What is partisan gerrymandering? In a hypothetical state called Zog, 55 percent of the registered voters are members of the Zogian People’s Party. They ought to win about 55 percent of the Zogian legislative seats, right? But they don’t. They win 75 percent of the seats because Zogian People’s Party leaders cleverly drew the district lines to ensure legislative victories beyond their numbers.
This is about what happened in Wisconsin when Republicans drew the district lines in 2011, and it’s the reason why the Supreme Court could decide whether or not those district lines are illegal. What happened in Wisconsin has occurred in many, if not most, states where politicians bend lines in ways that help incumbents or members of the party in power.
Few things are more political than redistricting, and you can never remove politics from politics. Politicians are pre-disposed to protect themselves and their allies. But at some point, politicians will overreach, and draw lines that hinder the ability of members of the minority party to pick the candidates of their choosing.