These ain’t your grandfather’s gerrymanders. Gone is the era of elaborate cartographical sketches and oil paintings of salamanders, and of salted old-timer politicians drawing up their “contributions to modern art” armed with markers and heads full of electoral smarts. Today, political mapmaking is a multimillion dollar enterprise, with dozens of high-profile paid consultants, armies of…
Federal judges announced their plans on Thursday to ask a Stanford University law professor to look at nine North Carolina legislative districts as they weigh the constitutionality of election maps adopted in August. The news came in an order filed in federal court by the three-judge panel asked to decide whether the new maps correct 28 districts drawn in 2011 and later found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The judges raised questions about seven state House districts and two state Senate districts that “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.” One Senate district was in Guilford County; the other was in Hoke and Cumberland counties. The House districts were in Wake County, Mecklenburg County and Guilford County. … Judge Catherine Eagles informed the attorneys in the order that Nathaniel Persily, who has helped draw districts for New York, Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut, would review North Carolina’s new legislative maps and possibly help the judges draw new lines for 2018.
National: The Supreme Court’s quiet gerrymandering revolution and the road to minority rule | London School of Economics
On October 3rd the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that will, for better or worse, literally reshape American democracy. Wisconsin plaintiffs in Whitford v Gill asked for constitutional protection against the dilution of their votes from extreme partisan gerrymandering in the state, the practice of drawing legislative and Congressional district boundaries to maximize the seat advantage for the incumbent party. Several justices voiced concern over the courts jumping into this political thicket. But there was no acknowledgement that this Court has been an enabler in allowing political parties to draw electoral districts with the explicit goal of maximizing electoral advantage, over the right of citizens to cast an equally weighted vote.
Arguments wrapped Thursday in a North Carolina lawsuit that aims to change American politics. The case targets partisan gerrymandering in general and North Carolina’s current congressional map in particular. Republican legislators, attorneys for good-government groups argue, drew intensely partisan lines, using detailed data from past elections to produce maps nearly guaranteed to elect 10 Republicans and three Democrats to Congress. Such partisan efforts have long been accepted, but the federal courts may eventually draw a line in the sand. North Carolina’s case is before a three-judge panel and could take months, or even years, to run its course. A similar case out of Wisconsin has already been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court’s decision is pending.
Pennsylvania: Gerrymandering: Advocates ask State Supreme Court to use rare power | Philadelphia Inquirer
Advocates are trying to fast-forward court action on changing Pennsylvania’s congressional map — considered among the most distorted in the nation — before the important 2018 elections. A state judge overseeing a suit by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania wants to hold off any action pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar case out of Wisconsin, but the league is asking the state high court to fast-track the case. In a hearing earlier this month, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pelligrini made clear he did not see the case being decided before the 2018 elections, saying, “I can tell you it isn’t going to happen.” On Monday he ordered a stay in the league’s suit. “The idea that we would have yet another election that takes place under a map that violates people’s constitutional rights to vote, that’s not acceptable,” Mimi McKenzie, legal director at the Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, which is representing the league, said Thursday.
Wisconsin: Elections official blames Schimel for keeping him from talking | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The head of the state Elections Commission says the attorney general is effectively stopping him from participating in a forum on Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case — a move that he says amounts to a top Republican limiting the speech of a Democrat. Attorney General Brad Schimel counters he is simply following a rule for lawyers to make sure one of his clients doesn’t talk to opposing attorneys without his own lawyers present. The dispute comes as state officials adjust to a new elections agency that is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Mark Thomsen, a Democrat and chairman of the commission, was invited to speak Friday on a panel that also features attorneys challenging Wisconsin’s election maps and voting laws. Thomsen wanted to participate in the forum but Schimel barred Thomsen and the attorneys from appearing together because Thomsen is a named plaintiff in the lawsuits at issue.
North Carolina: Partisan gerrymander trial highlights differences from Wisconsin case | News & Observer
Morton Lurie is a Raleigh resident who describes himself as a conservative Republican. On Monday, he was one of the North Carolina voters standing outside a federal courthouse in Greensboro, criticizing a map drawn in 2016 that has given Republicans a 10 to 3 edge in Congress. Though it can be difficult to keep up with all the redistricting lawsuits filed this decade in North Carolina, Lurie is one of the challengers of maps adopted by the Republican-led legislature last year to correct two of the 13 congressional districts found by federal judges to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Lurie objects to districts that are essentially safe seats for one party or another. “The House of Representatives is that part of our government designed to be sensitive to the interests and will of voters spread across the country,” Lurie told media during a break in a trial that started Monday in his lawsuit.
North Carolina’s redrawn legislative districts were debated Thursday before a panel of three federal judges who had struck down previous district maps for racial bias. The judges must decide whether to force another redrawing of the boundaries approved by Republicans over the summer or allow them to be used in the 2018 elections. Lawyers representing GOP legislative leaders and dozens of voters who successfully sued to throw out previous districts were subjected to 3½ hours of questioning by the judges, who did not immediately rule. Later Thursday, the judges opened wider the door to choosing an outside expert to make map changes on their behalf. Candidate filing starts in February. The judges had ordered the GOP-dominated legislature to approve new maps by Sept. 1, in keeping with their decision last year that 28 House and Senate districts drawn in 2011 were unlawful racial gerrymanders.
Imagine fighting a war on 10 battlefields. You and your opponent each have 200 soldiers, and your aim is to win as many battles as possible. How would you deploy your troops? If you spread them out evenly, sending 20 to each battlefield, your opponent could concentrate their own troops and easily win a majority of the fights. You could try to overwhelm several locations yourself, but there’s no guarantee you’ll win, and you’ll leave the remaining battlefields poorly defended. Devising a winning strategy isn’t easy, but as long as neither side knows the other’s plan in advance, it’s a fair fight. Now imagine your opponent has the power to deploy your troops as well as their own. Even if you get more troops, you can’t win. In the war of politics, this power to deploy forces comes from gerrymandering, the age-old practice of manipulating voting districts for partisan gain. By determining who votes where, politicians can tilt the odds in their favor and defeat their opponents before the battle even begins.
We Wisconsin political watchers are used to having the Badger State’s redistricting fights end up in court. So used to it, in fact, that some form of court has played a role in the matter since 1931. What is surprising this time, is that redistricting has ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. While much of the political world has their attention focused on Gill v. Whitford, the case which could decide the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, the reality for most Wisconsinites is that the case is nothing but the culmination of decades of backdoor deals, partisan incumbents protecting their own, recall elections to try to overturn previous election results, more. In other words: Politics as usual.
Editorials: Does the anti-gerrymandering campaign threaten minority voting rights? | Michael Li and Laura Royden/Vox
When Pennsylvania Democrats went to the Supreme Court in 2004 to ask that Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn congressional map be struck down as an unfair partisan gerrymander, they drew opposition from an unexpected source: fellow Democrats. Alabama Democrats told the court in a brief they were concerned that ending partisan gerrymandering would “undermine … the ability of African Americans in Alabama to continue the effective exercise of their newly won ability to participate in the political process.” In 2001, they pointed out, “African-American representatives pulled, hauled, and traded with their white colleagues” to achieve greater representation. In short, political gerrymandering — in which it was taken for granted that Democrats sought an advantage — helped maximize the voice of African Americans.
Pennsylvania: Gerrymandering, ‘political laser surgery,’ stokes fresh ire, legal fights | Philadelphia Inquirer
The proposal — letting a nonpartisan citizens commission, rather than politicians, draw lines for electoral districts — isn’t novel. It was presented by Carol Kuniholm, the executive director of Fair Districts PA, last week in Center City at a forum that focused on gerrymandering — a practice in which a party in power contorts legislative and congressional boundaries to its electoral advantage. Complaints about gerrymandering, a name derived from a 19th century Massachusetts governor and U.S. vice president who was a notorious practitioner, date to nearly the founding of the republic, notes David Thornburgh, head of the nonpartisan political watchdog group the Committee of Seventy. What is different these days is that the practices and the efforts to change them have reached perhaps unprecedented levels, said Thornburgh, who participated in that forum at the Pyramid Club, 52 floors above the streets of Center City, which included business and civic leaders. And this has been a particularly brisk period.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a Wisconsin case, is poised to make a historic ruling that could make extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional. Texas, whose maps historically are challenged because of racial gerrymandering, should nonetheless pay close attention. For all intents and purposes, racial and political gerrymandering are the same things in this state. Questions asked during a hearing Tuesday in the case offer a glimmer of hope that the days of gerrymandering might be coming to an end — or at least rendered more difficult to achieve. One question the court grappled with during the hearing: When does partisan gerrymandering — drawing legislative districts to advantage a certain political party — serve a valuable societal purpose? And the answer: Never.
North Carolina has long been a battleground state for Republicans and Democrats. And for many of its politicians, the same timeworn tool has plagued both parties. Gerrymandering, a term used to describe drawing voting districts to benefit whomever happens to be drawing the lines, dates back to 19th century Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry. Gerry was the first noted politician to shape a voting district in favor of himself so blatantly that one voter noted the shape of his district resembled a salamander, to which another voter replied, “No, it looks like a gerrymander,” and the term was born. The practice of gerrymandering for partisan purposes has been a tried and true weapon in the arsenal of political gain since the beginning of democratic elections. However, the practice of gerrymandering to disenfranchise minority groups was a ticking time bomb for North Carolina Republicans. Not to mention completely illegal.
On Tuesday, the US supreme court hears oral arguments in Gill v Whitford. This will open the door for a potentially precedent-setting ruling on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering – the process of redrawing electoral districts in order to favor one party over another. The past several years have seen a new level of hyper-partisan gerrymandering that defies voters and has subverted our democracy. Thus far, however, the court has refused to rule on the constitutionality of this political ploy, deferring instead to the political process. The result is a system that demands immediate course correction. While there is progress to be made at the state level, in today’s political climate, the supreme court is best poised to demand the needed course correction before this illegitimate political ploy further distorts our elections.
National: Supreme Court takes up Wisconsin as test in partisan gerrymandering claims | The Washington Post
Opponents of political gerrymandering had reason for optimism at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the likely swing vote, appearing more in sync with liberal colleagues who seemed convinced that a legislative map can be so infected with political bias that it violates the Constitution. But it’s what Kennedy didn’t say that could determine whether the court, for the first time, strikes down a legislative map because of extreme partisan gerrymandering. While he has previously expressed concerns about the political mapmaking practice, he has yet to endorse a way of determining when gerrymandering is excessive, and Kennedy give no sign at oral arguments Tuesday that he had found one. In a case from Wisconsin that could reshape the way American elections are conducted, the Supreme Court heard from challengers that it was the “only institution in the United States” that could prevent a coming wave of extreme partisan gerrymandering that would distort the basic structure of democracy.
Editorials: Who Will Justice Kennedy Believe When It Comes to Gerrymandering? | David Daley/The New Yorker
A dramatic hour at the Supreme Court on Tuesday left the most crucial question unanswered: Does Justice Anthony Kennedy believe that there is a clear method to identifying when a partisan gerrymander is so extreme that it is undemocratic and unconstitutional? The much anticipated oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford did make it clear that…
A lawyer for Wisconsin Democrats, who have been shut out of power in the state since Republicans drew new election maps nearly a decade ago, pleaded with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to restrict partisan gerrymandering, the practice of one party using redistricting to give itself a political advantage. “The politicians are never going to fix gerrymandering,” Paul M. Smith, an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, told the justices. “You are the only institution in the United States that can solve this problem.” Wisconsin Democrats say the 2011 Republican legislative map violated the First Amendment by punishing them for their political beliefs and violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because it intended to dilute Democratic votes but not Republican ones.
Pennsylvania: Judge: Redistricting lawsuit running out of time to alter 2018 elections | York Dispatch
A gerrymandering lawsuit filed against Pennsylvania legislative leaders went to court Wednesday, Oct. 4, but it could be several months before the courts hear opening arguments in the case, according to the judge who presided over the hearing. Lawyers representing the legislative leaders and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania squared off in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg over the leaders’ attempt to halt the League’s lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Republicans engaged in extreme partisan gerrymandering when drawing the current congressional maps in 2011. Lawyers for the League are seeking a ruling from the court that strikes down the congressional maps and orders new maps to be drawn before the 2018 election.
Gerrymandering is a non-issue in Iowa. Since 1981, a nonpartisan state agency has drawn Iowa’s congressional district lines, following strict rules to create compact districts without regard to politics. The legislature still has the final say, but each time the agency’s work has been approved by the legislature without revision. Perhaps Ohio could learn something from Iowa.
In this sixth part of a cleveland.com series – Out of Line: Impact 2017 and Beyond – we examine what could be learned from the Hawkeye State in search of a way to rid Ohio of the politically motivated gerrymandering currently focused on politicians and their political parties rather than the citizens.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has long been troubled by extreme partisan gerrymandering, where the party in power draws voting districts to give itself a lopsided advantage in elections. But he has never found a satisfactory way to determine when voting maps are so warped by politics that they cross a constitutional line. After spirited Supreme Court arguments on Tuesday, there was reason to think Justice Kennedy may be ready to join the court’s more liberal members in a groundbreaking decision that could reshape American democracy by letting courts determine when lawmakers have gone too far. Justice Kennedy asked skeptical questions of lawyers defending a Wisconsin legislative map that gave Republicans many more seats in the State Assembly than their statewide vote tallies would have predicted. He asked no questions of the lawyer representing the Democratic voters challenging the map.
Editorials: Algorithms Supercharged Gerrymandering. We Should Use Them to Fix it | Daniel Oberhaus/Motherboard
Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Gill v. Whitford, in which the state of Wisconsin will argue that congressional redistricting practices are not subject to judicial oversight. At the core of this hearing is whether partisan gerrymandering—a tactic used by political parties to redraw congressional voting districts so that the voting power within those districts is weighted toward their own party—was used to steal the 2012 state elections in Wisconsin from Democrats. The ramifications of this decision will be felt by the entire country. The Supreme Court will be deciding whether or not federal courts have the ability to throw out district maps for being too partisan, which requires the justices to be able to articulate just what constitutes partisan gerrymandering in the first place. The practice of gerrymandering has been a thorn in the side of American democracy for most of our nation’s existence, but continues largely unabated due to the difficulty of defining the point at which a new congressional district can considered to be the result of partisan gerrymandering. Various solutions to America’s gerrymandering problem have been proposed over the years, but most of these have failed to gain traction. In September, however, a team of data scientists at the University of Illinois published a paper to little fanfare that offered a novel solution to America’s gerrymandering woes: Let an algorithm draw the maps.
Two days before Wisconsin’s elections maps will be argued in what could be a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court, folks upset over what they say is a rigged system rallied in Milwaukee. Holding signs “Democracy Demands Fair Maps” and “Fair Maps for Fair Elections,” a crowd of around 150 people cheered and applauded speakers at the rally at Plymouth Church on Milwaukee’s east side. “I’m sort of insanely excited,” Mary Lynne Donohue said shortly before the gathering. Donohue, a resident of Wisconsin’s 26th Assembly District in Sheboygan County, is a plaintiff in the suit and is flying to Washington, D.C., Monday morning.
Editorials: Will the Supreme Court strike down extreme partisan gerrymandering? | Thomas P. Wolf and Michael C. Li/Los Angeles Times
The U.S. Supreme Court this fall will hear a series of blockbuster cases dealing with core constitutional rights and basic national values. Among the most important is Gill vs. Whitford, a Wisconsin case that asks the justices to address the toxic threat of partisan gerrymandering. With Whitford, Americans — who by wide margins say they are fed up with gerrymandering — may finally get the breakthrough they have long sought. The court has already tried and failed several times to limit politicians’ power to manipulate electoral maps for partisan ends. Its failures have paved the way for so-called extreme partisan gerrymanders, electoral maps drawn by politicians and paid consultants that lock in a statewide majority for their party, through good and bad election cycles. But there is reason to believe that the Wisconsin case, which the court will take up Oct. 3, may turn out differently. Several crucial factors have aligned to make judicial action both relatively easy and absolutely necessary.
Superficially, the question in Gill v. Whitford—the blockbuster case about partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin, to be heard next month by the Supreme Court—is a legal one. Is the test for gerrymandering adoptedby the trial court “discernible,” or rooted in the high court’s precedent, and “manageable,” or consistent in the results it would produce? Lurking beneath this question, though, is a more fundamental debate about the nature of voting and representation in modern American politics. The position the Supreme Court takes in this debate will likely influence its decision more than any legal argument. In its amicus brief, the Wisconsin legislature tells a rosy tale of voter and legislator behavior. Wisconsin voters do not “blindly support one party or the other,” the brief contends. Rather, they often split their tickets, or change their allegiances from one election to the next, based on “issues that matter to the electorate” and “the quality of the candidates and their campaigns.” Legislators, similarly, are highly responsive to their constituents’ preferences. Competitive races “force the winning candidate to adopt more moderate, centrist positions,” while “a landslide may allow that candidate to move further from the center.”
Wisconsin: Supreme Court case offers window into how representatives choose their constituents | The Washington Post
Behind the locked doors of a “map room,” in a politically connected law firm’s offices across from the historic Capitol, three men worked in secret to ensure the future of the state’s newly triumphant Republican Party. They were drawing the legislative districts in which members of the Wisconsin Senate and State Assembly would be elected. When the men — two aides to legislative leaders and a lobbyist brought in to help — finished in the early summer of 2011, they headed across the street to present their work. “The maps we pass will determine who’s here 10 years from now,” read the notes for the meeting, which were made public as part of a lawsuit. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to draw these maps that Republicans haven’t had in decades.” The maps are now at the center of a Supreme Court case to be argued next month that could change the dynamics of American politics — if the justices decide for the first time that a legislative map is so infected with political favoritism that it violates the Constitution.
Thanks to Arizona, there is an alternative to allowing elected politicians – focused on their self-interests or those of their party – to draw the congressional district boundaries every 10 years. Arizona voters in 2000 approved a different way. They changed the state constitution to establish an independent commission to do the work. Challenged in the Supreme Court in 2015, the use of an independent commission is now established as a legal alternative. State legislatures do not have to be involved. Perhaps Ohio could learn something from Arizona – ideas that could help Ohio devise a system to draw maps by focusing on the interest of the citizens instead of politicians and their parties.
A mathematician and a political scientist joined forces this week to give a two-part talk at Bowdoin about gerrymandering, which is the practice of redrawing congressional districts to help ensure partisan outcomes. Though gerrymandering lands squarely in the political realm, math has always played a big role in congressional districting. Math determines how the U.S. counts voters in its Census and how those voters get divided up to apportion representatives to the government. And today, math could possibly lead the way to a more fair and just political system that is based on mathematically derived voting districts, according to an academic who visited Bowdoin this week. Moon Duchin, an associate professor of mathematics at Tufts University, gave a talk Monday evening about how she is applying her expertise in the geometry of groups and surfaces to gerrymandering. “We’re looking at aspects of this big mess that is US congressional and legislative redistricting, and trying to find places where math has something to say,” she said.
It is a political practice nearly as old as the United States – manipulating the boundaries of legislative districts to help one party tighten its grip on power in a move called partisan gerrymandering – and one the Supreme Court has never curbed. That could soon change, with the nine justices making the legal fight over Republican-drawn electoral maps in Wisconsin one of the first cases they hear during their 2017-2018 term that begins next month. Their ruling in the case could influence American politics for decades. Wisconsin officials point to the difficulty of having courts craft a workable standard for when partisan gerrymandering violates constitutional protections. Opponents of the practice said limits are urgently needed, noting that sophisticated technological tools now enable a dominant party to devise with new precision state electoral maps that marginalize large swathes of voters in legislative elections.
The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear a Maryland gerrymandering claim at the same time as a similar challenge from Wisconsin. The court issued an order Wednesday denying the motion of Republican plaintiffs to have their case before the court at the same time as Democratic plaintiffs from Wisconsin. In U.S. District Court, the plaintiffs — who include three Republican voters from Frederick County — argued that the redrawn districts amount to an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. The case arrived at the Supreme Court after two U.S. District Court judges denied 6th District voters’ request for a preliminary injunction to require a new map before the 2018 election. The judges also decided to place a hold on the case until the Supreme Court considered the Wisconsin case.