Racial gerrymanders have been undone many times, most recently when the Supreme Court ruled against a pair of North Carolina congressional districts this week. But another case from that same state, heading into federal court next month, has a shot at eventually persuading the justices to do what they’ve never done before: strike down an election map as an unconstitutionally partisan gerrymander. The high court ruled three decades ago that it may be unconstitutional to draw political boundaries so that one party was sure to win a disproportionate number of elections, but it’s never come up with a means for deciding when such mapmaking has become too extreme. The new lawsuit involving North Carolina congressional districts stands to provide just such a rationale. That’s especially true if it ends up getting paired with a similar case involving Wisconsin’s state legislature districts, which the Supreme Court seems virtually certain to consider in its term beginning this fall.
While it’s been obvious for years that election law — the rules by which votes are counted, district lines are drawn and campaigns are paid for — represents a front in the culture wars, we don’t usually think of it that way. That’s because the term culture war signifies the politicization of competing belief systems — over abortion, for example, or religion or the appropriate social roles for men and women. (I use the word “belief” advisedly, recognizing that an anti-abortion position is purely opportunistic for a fair number of the Republican politicians who embrace it, including but not limited to President Trump.) The election-law wars, by contrast, aren’t about belief. They are about power: who has it, who gets to keep it. And as underscored by this week’s Supreme Court decision invalidating two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, the justices are as fully engaged in combat as anyone else.
Texas: Fearing 2018 losses, Texas Republicans in Congress want special session on redistricting | The Texas Tribune
There are few things that strike more fear into the heart of a member of Congress than the word “redistricting.” That proved particularly true this week among Texas Republicans in Washington, thanks to a recent court ruling that came about just as talk was increasing in Austin that Gov. Greg Abbott may call a special session. Some Texas Republicans in Congress hope that any upcoming special session will include redrawing the state’s 36 congressional districts as part of its agenda. The message coming out of Austin thus far: not going to happen.
A Supreme Court that prides itself on trying to remain above politics will be forced to rule soon on what one justice calls the “always unsavory” process of drawing election districts for partisan gain. A case headed its way from Wisconsin, along with others from Maryland and North Carolina, will present the court with a fundamental question about political power: How far can lawmakers go in choosing their voters, rather than the other way around? Should the court set a standard — something it has declined to do for decades — it could jeopardize about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures. That could lead to new district lines before or after the 2020 Census, which in turn could affect election results and legislative agendas. “If the court makes a broad, sweeping decision … this could have a massive impact on how maps are drawn,” says Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer for the Republican National Committee. “It will make more districts more competitive.”
Editorials: Is Anthony Kennedy ready to put an end to partisan gerrymandering? | Mark Joseph Stern/Slate
Say what you will about Justice Samuel Alito, but the man always thinks ahead. On Monday, Alito dissented in Cooper v. Harris, the landmark 5–3 ruling that united Justice Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court’s liberals to strike down North Carolina’s racial gerrymander. Frustrated by the progressive result, Alito penned a 34-page broadside lambasting his colleagues for accusing the state of race-based redistricting. North Carolina, Alito insisted, had gerrymandered along partisan lines, not racial ones, in an effort to disadvantage Democrats, not blacks. And partisan gerrymandering, Alito reminded us, does not violate the Constitution.
This year, federal courts have been litigating a steady stream of gerrymandering claims. And most of the electoral maps the courts have knocked down were drawn by Republicans. That’s good news for Democrats: They have an opportunity in several states to draw more favorable congressional and state legislative maps ahead of 2018 elections. And every seat counts, given the 2020 Census is right around the corner, which brings with it the opportunity in many states to draw new district maps. Some Republican legislatures are paying the price for capturing 21 chambers in the 2010 elections, the last time electoral maps were being drawn. Monday, North Carolina became the third GOP-controlled state legislature in a row to get its map-drawing skills declared illegal by the Supreme Court.
Editorials: The Supreme Court may just have given voting rights activists a powerful new tool | Richard Hasen/The Washington Post
Sometimes the most important stuff in Supreme Court opinions is hidden in the footnotes. In Monday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutionally influenced by race, the majority buried a doozy, a potentially powerful new tool to attack voting rights violations in the South and elsewhere. At issue in the case was whether two congressional districts drawn by the North Carolina General Assembly were unconstitutional “racial gerrymanders.”
North Carolina: Justices Reject 2 Gerrymandered North Carolina Districts, Citing Racial Bias | The New York Times
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down two North Carolina congressional districts, ruling that lawmakers had violated the Constitution by relying too heavily on race in drawing them. The court rejected arguments from state lawmakers that their purpose in drawing the maps was not racial discrimination but partisan advantage. The decision was the court’s latest attempt to solve a constitutional puzzle: how to disentangle the roles of race and partisanship when black voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats. The difference matters because the Supreme Court has said that only racial gerrymandering is constitutionally suspect.
Texas: Federal judge urges Texas to consider special session for redistricting after North Carolina ruling | Dallas Morning News
In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage. Hours after the ruling, the federal district court in San Antonio currently overseeing the Texas case issued an order to the relevant parties asking them to submit briefs detailing how the North Carolina ruling will affect their claims, with a deadline of June 6. Judge Xavier Rodriguez, on behalf of the panel, also directed Texas to consider whether it would like to “voluntarily undertake redistricting in a special session” of the legislature in light of the North Carolina ruling, giving the state until Friday to decide.
Wisconsin: Attorney General Brad Schimel asks U.S. Supreme Court to block order on voting maps | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Wisconsin’s attorney general on Monday asked the nation’s high court to block a ruling that would force lawmakers to draw new legislative maps by November. A panel of three federal judges ruled 2-1 last fall that lawmakers had drawn maps for the state Assembly that were so heavily skewed for Republicans as to violate the voting rights of Democrats. The judges ordered the state to develop new maps by November. GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in February and the state is waiting to hear if the justices will hold arguments in the case.