Gerrymandering back at Supreme Court as midterms near, tensions

Grappling with its second partisan gerrymandering case of the term, the Supreme Court appeared highly conflicted Wednesday on whether Maryland violated the First Amendment rights of Republicans by shifting the political makeup of their congressional district.

In Pennsylvania, a recent court ruling reshaped congressional districts for this year's elections. Other defendants in the case are state government in general and the state Board of Elections, along with several of its board members. To return power to the voters to choose their representatives and not the other way around, the Supreme Court must use this opportunity to put an end to partisan redistricting as we know it.

Partisan breakdown: State Assembly — 63 Republicans, 35 Democrats, one vacancy.

The Maryland case will be closely watched when it is decided as it relates to the more publicized gerrymandering case already heard by the Court back on October 3: Gill v. Whitford. With the rest of the Court pretty clearly split between its clear-cut liberal and conservative four-justice blocs on the advisability of intervening in such cases, Kennedy has remained the swing vote on this subject to this day.

"Gerrymandering will very literally be illegal, and many more seats at the state and federal level will actually be subject to true electoral competition", he stated.

Earlier, lawyers for the voters had argued successfully that after the 2010 census, legislators packed 28 state House and Senate districts with excessive numbers of black voters to blunt the larger impact of their voting patterns that tend to favor Democratic candidates.

Thanks in part to their gerrymander, Republicans now hold 63 of 99 seats in the Assembly and 18 of 33 seats in the Senate. It's since been held by a Democrat.

Partisan breakdown: U.S. House — 25 Republicans, 11 Democrats. On the new map, that would be enough to give Democrats 10 of the state's 18 seats.

But that ignores the reality that extraordinary sessions (called by the legislature) or special sessions (which can be called only be the governor) can be convened to consider specific topics or bills.

Maryland's case provides a bit of counterprogramming to the national image of partisan gerrymandering as a Republican sport. The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked lower court orders to redraw two congressional districts and nine state House districts for the 2018 elections and is scheduled to hear arguments April 24 on an appeal of the lower court rulings. Bartlett lost the 2012 election by 21 percentage points.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor proved Sullivan's most forceful questioners, as they frequently pointed to comments unearthed during discovery that suggested the map drawers set out to make a new Democratic district in Maryland. Some expressed an urgency to do something about partisan gerrymandering, even if they didn't find a flawless standard. Many of them also asked three of the bills' prime sponsors - who are Democrats - whether they think independent commissioners could vote as a bloc to push an agenda, or whether the commissioners would understand hard concepts legislators themselves sometimes struggle with.

Folmer - elected to the Senate in 2006 as a reformer and a "no" vote on the state's infamous 2011 Congressional map - said afterward he believes the Boscola bill needs work, but he vowed a honest effort on the issue this spring. State House — 75 Republicans, 45 Democrats.

Justice Stephen Breyer warned that because of advances in computer technology - partially to blame for the current maps - partisan gerrymandering would only get worse during the next redistricting cycle after the 2020 census unless the court took action, according to reporting from the Huffington Post.

O'Malley's frank admission is at the heart of what is becoming an unprecedented look at partisan gerrymandering by the Supreme Court.

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh), whose bill has been a primary focus in part because it has support from a Republican colleague, said at the hearing that she wasn't married to any particular aspect of her proposal but believes in the importance of having an outside commission decide the lines. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court invalidated the state's congressional districts and replaced them with a court-drawn plan.

The experience in states such as California and Colorado, with supposedly independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions of the sort Mr. Hogan advocates for Maryland, demonstrates how politicians and political parties attempt to stack the commissions with like-minded partisans.

Easier was to put numerous Republicans in the old 6th District into the overwhelmingly Democratic 8th District.

  • Leroy Wright