The Supreme Court Has Not Seen Your Gif About the Evils of Gerrymandering

Can states draw fair districts if the Constitution requires legislators to meddle?

The saga of Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, a young and photogenic* Republican whose staff bungled a profile of his lavishly decorated office and turned a flock of reporters loose on his finances, lacks an element of drama. Thanks to a 2011 gerrymander of Illinois, designed to elect as many Democrats as possible, Schock is at no threat of losing a general election. "In Peoria," wrote Sheryl Stolberg in an on-the-ground profile of Schock's problems, "there are few Schock haters." Schock could draw a primary challenger, but no Republican in his district seems capable of losing an election.

This is worth remembering in the wake of oral arguments in the lawsuit against Arizona's non-partisan redistricting. Paul Clement, arguing for the commission's critics, described it as "a body that has the one feature we know that a representative body doesn't have, which is this commission is completely unelected and completely unaccountable to the people."

The skepticism of justices largely focused on whether the Constitution's empowering of "legislatures" to draw lines meant that the commissions were simply unsound. Clement's argument went a bit further: The defendants, who argued that the voters had chosen to take redistricting power away from legislators, were trampling democracy.

What was striking in the questions from the court's liberal appointees was how little they dealt with democracy, or competition, or fairness. The popular support for commissions, as seen by voters and by viral maps of the worst gerrymanders, is rooted in the worry that legislators will choose, for themselves, districts they can't lose. They might choose, for the ideologically like-minded, maps that make it almost impossible for one party to lose. And that wasn't really part of the court's discussion

“Time and time again, the Supreme Court has criticized the practice of gerrymandering, while at the same time refusing to stop it,” said Delaware Senator Chris Coons in a statement. (Coons, a Democrat, hails from a state with only one congressional district.) “So when the people of a state — in this case Arizona — rise up and empower themselves and their institutions to take on gerrymandering, I would hope that the Supreme Court would applaud these laboratories of democracy, rather than stand in their way."

*This is the word seen to be less judgmental or glib than "handsome," for some reason.

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