By Michael McCurry
On October 3, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for a case that would control partisan gerrymandering. The case, Gill v. Whitford, challenges the map drawn by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin state legislature, and it is argued it heavily favors their party. The significance of this case is massive, as the plaintiffs are asking the court to establish a standard for the measurement of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is an often-unknown term to the masses as it is purposely done behind the scenes. The idea is simple: in 42 of the 50 states, whichever party controls the state legislature is tasked with redrawing congressional district borders, often times passing new border legislation with just a simple majority, creating a system where the majority party can pass whatever map they choose to create. This potentially opens the door for some nefarious practices. The core principles in an effective gerrymander are the practices of ‘cracking’ and ‘packing.’
On a small scale, if you had twelve prospective voters, 6 Republican and 6 Democrat, that you wanted to split into four districts, you would use the practice of packing to fill one of those districts with three members of the opposing party. Then with the remaining districts you would use the practice of cracking to distribute the rest of the opposing party into equal slivers, which would grant your party the majority vote in all three. Suddenly instead of having four districts with equal distribution of voters, there would now be three districts in favor of one party and one in favor of the other regardless of the parties receiving equal popular votes.
In Gill v. Whitford, the justices are again split down a 4-4 line with the deciding vote being the centrist, Anthony Kennedy, who is the only Republican-appointed justice that could possibly side with the court’s Democrat-appointed members to strike down the partisan Republican map. It is unclear at the moment which way Kennedy will rule as many speculate the veteran justice’s silence during the plaintiff’s testimony may show signals of the Reagan appointee ruling alongside his Democratic colleagues.
Marina Mozak (’19) is not so confident. “I can’t imagine the Supreme Court will do anything. Keep in mind these practices have served to great benefits of the people in power.”
History major Tyler Salter (’19) believes that gerrymandering itself goes against the American democratic process. “The whole system seems to be against the American tradition of fair elections and having people’s voices heard, it just rigs the system for incumbents or whatever party is in power to have an overwhelming control.”
As the court proceedings continue, the question remains. Does this system of partisan map drawing impede democracy? Only time will tell.