Chief Justice John Roberts warned Tuesday that the Supreme Court’s “status and integrity” could be jeopardized if a majority of the justices declare that there is a constitutional limit to partisan gerrymandering. At the same time, the court’s four liberal justices warned that failing to act poses a threat to democracy.
With the court apparently split 4-4 along liberal-conservative lines, the man in the middle is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who in a 2004 court opinion left the door open to declaring extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional if “manageable standards” could be developed for identifying which ones are extreme.
Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative and congressional district lines to maximize and perpetuate the power of an incumbent political party.
The test case before the court is from Wisconsin. In 2011 Wisconsin Republicans completely controlled the redistricting process for the first time in four decades. A divided federal court later found that Republicans, using high-speed computer technology along with new voter data, were able to draw new district lines to solidify their control of the Legislature for at least the rest of the decade, if not longer.
Indeed, a year after the redistricting, Republicans captured only a minority of the statewide vote — 48.6 percent — but, as they had privately predicted, they still won 60 of the 99 state legislative seats, while the Democrats, who had won a majority of the vote, captured a mere 39 seats.