Gerrymandering is the term used in the United States to describe the intentional manipulation of district boundaries to discriminate against a group of voters on the basis of their politics or race. The term dates to 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed into law a redistricting plan that included a district that many thought looked like a salamander, leading opponents to nickname the district after him. But while the term has become a synonym for redistricting abuses, it actually covers a wide variety of sins, not all of which are related. For example, one form of gerrymandering involves making a district super safe for an incumbent. Likewise, sometimes districts are drawn so a powerful lawmaker’s brother-in-law or another favored candidate can successfully run for office. These types of gerrymanders – which often occur through bipartisan collusion between political parties –can be harmful to democracy by pre-determining outcomes and depriving voters of a meaningful choice. But Gill v. Whitford involves another variant of political gerrymandering that is even more pernicious.
In the type of extreme gerrymandering being challenged in Whitford (and in partisan gerrymandering cases in North Carolina and Pennsylvania), a political party uses its control of the process to artfully craft maps that lock in an outsized share of seats. For an example of this type of gerrymandering at play, take a look at North Carolina. At a statewide level, North Carolina is a robust democracy with highly contested elections for everything from president to state auditor. In some cases, Democrats win, in other cases Republicans so. But when it comes to its state legislature and congressional delegations, the exact opposite is true. In the state’s congressional delegation, for example, Republicans enjoy a safe and durable 10-3 advantage.
Gerrymanders of this sort are harmful of not only because they bake in results but because they result in maps that are deeply unrepresentative. John Adams famously wrote in 1788 that the House of Representatives – and by extension state legislatures – should be a “exact portrait” and “miniature” of the people as a whole. That doesn’t happen when district boundaries are manipulated in this way.
Full Article: What is Extreme Gerrymandering? | Brennan Center for Justice.