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What Is Gerrymandering?

The Supreme Court Will Hear a Case on Gerrymandering — Here's Why It Matters


The Supreme Court will hear a case next year that could affect federal and state elections. The case, Gill v. Whitford, will determine whether Wisconsin's redistricting plan is unconstitutional because of its gerrymandering, which favored Republicans.

What is gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is a term that describes redrawing district lines so that one voting party is favored over the other. Historically, it was often used as a tool to further disenfranchise people along racial and economic lines. Gill v. Whitford concerns how state assembly districts were redrawn by Republican lawmakers in 2011. It led to Republicans winning more than half of the state assembly seats in 2012, but only receiving receiving 48.6 percent of the two-party vote. Some believe this is a clear case of gerrymandering.

How does gerrymandering work?

In this case, districts are redrawn using two strategies called "cracking and packing." With cracking, one party's supporters are divided into several districts, so that a specific party can't win a majority in any of them. Packing puts the bulk of one party's supporters into a single district, so that it's easier for the party to win.

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Why is the Supreme Court looking into this case?

Last November, a three-judge panel ruled that the redrawing of districts in Wisconsin was unconstitutional and violated the First and 14th Amendments. The three judges believed it prevented voters from being accurately represented. The state of Wisconsin then appealed the ruling on Feb. 24, and the Supreme Court decided on June 19 to hear the case in 2018. There are similar cases in North Carolina and Maryland whose outcome could hinge on the court's decision.

Why does gerrymandering matter?

Gerrymandering can severely undermine a citizen's vote and influence representation in the government — not to mention democratic processes and values. According to the Campaign Legal Center, "the current redistricting process is undermining our democracy and partisan gerrymandering has become the political weapon of choice for legislators to maintain political power." As it stands now, states can come up with a redistricting plan and face no repercussions for making it extremely partisan. There's no precedent or ruling that states how much redrawing a district can constitute as gerrymandering.

Image Source: Getty / SAUL LOEB
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