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The Supreme Court Is Finally Tackling Gerrymandering

Academics give SCOTUS cover to rule on extreme cases of redistricting.
(From left) Republican state Senators Dan Soucek and Brent Jackson review historical maps during the Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session at the North Carolina General Assembly on Feb. 16, 2016. Federal judges ruled on Jan. 9, 2018, that North Carolina’s congressional district map drawn by legislative Republicans is illegally gerrymandered because of excessive partisanship that gave the GOP a rock-solid advantage for most seats and must be redone. 

(From left) Republican state Senators Dan Soucek and Brent Jackson review historical maps during the Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session at the North Carolina General Assembly on Feb. 16, 2016. Federal judges ruled on Jan. 9, 2018, that North Carolina’s congressional district map drawn by legislative Republicans is illegally gerrymandered because of excessive partisanship that gave the GOP a rock-solid advantage for most seats and must be redone. 

Photographer: Corey Lowenstein/The News & Observer/AP Photo

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. hates gerrymandering cases. When courts overturn legislatures’ redistricting maps, “you’re taking these issues away from democracy” and deciding them on what “I can only describe as sociological gobbledygook,” Roberts said in October during oral arguments in a Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford.

For years the U.S. Supreme Court has been unwilling to tackle partisan gerrymandering. That left state political parties free to redraw voting maps in egregious ways using ever more powerful software. But the high court may finally be ready to crack down on extreme cases of gerrymandering. It’s taking up two cases this term, including the one in Wisconsin, where Democrats are challenging the Republican-drawn map used to elect the state assembly. The other, Benisek v. Lamone, which it will hear this spring, concerns a Democrat-drawn congressional district in Maryland.