gerrymandering

  • September 13, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Matt Lynch, Special Counsel, Foley & Lardner LLP and Steering Committee member, ACS Madison Lawyer Chapter

    Few are willing to defend the practice of partisan gerrymandering on its merits.  Republican lawmakers, Democratic lawmakers, historians, political scientists, law professors, partisan interest groups, and nonpartisan interest groups alike all agree that gerrymandering—drawing legislative districts for the purpose of political advantage—is a pox on representative government. But stopping the practice requires legislators to voluntarily harm their own chances for re-election.  And so gerrymandering continues, now aided by more precise voter data than we have ever had, and the technology to use it on a broad, state-wide scale.

    Gill v. Whitford, a case arising from Wisconsin’s heavily gerrymandered districts, presents the United States Supreme Court with a clean opportunity to rein in that despised practice.  The only question is whether the justices—namely swing Justice Anthony Kennedy—believe it is a problem that warrants a judicial solution.

  • September 13, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Daniel TokajiCharles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold Professor of Constitutional Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

    *This piece originally ran on SCOTUSblog as a part of their Summer Symposium on Gill v. Whitford

    A constitutional standard for partisan gerrymandering is the holy grail of election law. For decades, scholars and jurists have struggled to find a manageable standard for claims of excessive partisanship in drawing district lines. Most of these efforts have focused on the equal protection clause. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested in Vieth v. Jubelirer, the First Amendment provides a firmer doctrinal basis for challenging partisan gerrymandering. An established line of precedent understands voting as a form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. These cases offer a nuanced standard that would avoid the undesirable result of rendering any consideration of partisan consequences unconstitutional.

  • October 15, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Sean J. Young, Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project

    Earlier this week, The New York Times published a column asserting that the American Civil Liberties Union has “seemed to take [] opposite position[s]” in two voting rights disputes. This is wrong.

    In the first dispute, which is pending before the Supreme Court, the question is whether states should be allowed to count all persons for the purposes of equally apportioning their legislative districts, as nearly all states currently do. The ACLU filed an amicus brief answering yes, for our country has long embraced the fundamental principle that all persons, whether or not they can vote, are entitled to equal representation. Given the democratic values of inclusion and equality built into the Constitution, we reject our opponents’ argument that this same Constitution now forces all states to exclude all ineligible voters from their population counts.  Millions of non-citizens are contributing members of our communities, and the vast majority of states that currently provide these individuals the same share of representation that citizens receive should be allowed to continue doing so. 

    In the second dispute, which is pending in the lower courts in Rhode Island and Florida, the question is where incarcerated persons should be counted for apportionment purposes: the place where they were lived prior to incarceration, or the place where they have been involuntarily confined?  The ACLU believes that for the 2.4 million individuals now incarcerated in this country, their “home” should be counted as being the place where they lived prior to incarceration. Counting these incarcerated individuals as “residents” of the district where they have been involuntarily confined artificially inflates the population of the districts in which the prison is based. This type of prison-based gerrymandering results in an unequal system of representation where, after prisoner bodies are siphoned into the district where the prison is based, their numbers are used to increase the district’s political power at the expense of the communities from which these incarcerated individuals had lived. 

  • July 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service, George Washington University Law School

    *This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    When most people propose changes in our electoral system, they generally do so in order to achieve a political end, not because the change conforms to a platonic ideal of what elections should be like. So it is with the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall. Their claim is that, when states draw their legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause requires that they use the numbers of voters, instead of the number of people, as the basis for allocating seats within the states.

    The Supreme Court has ended the most blatant forms of gerrymandering and required legislative districts at both the state and federal level to be equal in composition within each state. The Court's rulings have been labeled "one person, one-vote," and the general assumption has been that, in dividing up each house by districts, the denominator has been the total population of the state.

    Evenwel challenges that assumption and argues that, because the goal of one person, one vote is to have each person's vote count the same as every other person's, the denominator should be total voters and not total population. If this were the law, the main groups that would no longer be counted are children, illegal immigrants, those not registered to vote, and felons who are precluded from voting. Until the actual lines are drawn for all the districts in a state, the results are not certain. But we do know that the backer of this lawsuit (Edward Blum) also supports Fisher v. University of Texas, which seeks the elimination of affirmative action in university admission. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that he believes that the change would have an adverse impact on minorities and their Democratic supporters, or at least it has that potential in some states, including Texas where the case was brought.

  • July 10, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    The New York Times features a debate over whether the Supreme Court has become too powerful.

    At The Atlantic, Russell Berman discusses how a bipartisan consensus in Congress could lead to meaningful reform of the criminal justice system.

    Andrew Prokop reports for Vox on the Florida Supreme Court ruling against partisan gerrymandering.

    At the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Walter Shapiro considers what gun control advocates can learn from South Carolina.

    Steven Mazie contends at The Economist’s Democracy in America blog that liberals may find themselves less satisfied with Supreme Court rulings next term. 

    Fili Sagapolutele and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher report for the Associated Press that American Samoa is holding out against the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling.