SCOTUS: “partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable”

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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20 Responses

  1. Largely a moot point in western states. Of the 13, nine already have redistricting commissions of some form: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, UT, and WA. (Utah’s commission can be overruled by the state legislature, who must also publish a report explaining in detail why they made changes.) Three only have one US House representative: AK, MT, WY. (Montana’s redistricting commission will split the state if Montana gets a second House seat after the Census — it will be close.) At the level of state legislatures none of the western states currently fail enough of Sam Wang’s tests to be classed as a partisan gerrymander.

    Most western states have constitutional requirements to minimize splitting of cities and counties in drawing districts. This leads to what LeeEsq calls natural gerrymandering. Here in Colorado, building districts based on making them all competitive would require splitting both Denver and Colorado Springs across several/many districts — a situation that no one in or outside of those cities wants.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

      As usual, it’s everybody east of us that is the problem…

      😉Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I’ve said before, I’ll say again: districts that look fractal are offensive to me. I want to be able to look at a region and then be able to say “yeah, this is the middle of the region”.

      I also want a reasonably informed person to be able to look at a region and be able to guess the shared interest of the region on the first or second guess.

      Gerrymandering that results in districts where you know that the only shared interest is the shared interest of the partisan gerrymandering committee was inevitable given locking ourselves in at 435 representatives. This has already created pathologies and will create more.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, a lot of districts will be fractal because nature draws fractal borders (such as rivers, mountains, and coast lines).

        Perhaps a better metric would be a district’s perimeter to surface area ratio. “A circle is 2, a square is four, and your salamander shaped district is 287.”Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to George Turner says:

          We’re not in “what if a border of the district is on the border of a river?” territory, George.

          Look at Maryland’s 3rd district, Pennsylvania’s 7th, or Illinois’s 4th. (Or Texas’s 2nd or 35th, if you demand to see examples from “both sides”.)

          These are districts deliberately made to create a partisan district without care for shared interests in the districts.

          Edit: I know that “reasonably informed” is a weasel term in my comment but I think that it’s not too much to ask that it includes “knows where the mountains, rivers, and coastlines are.”Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

            Illinois’ 4th district is racially gerrymandered to make sure an Hispanic is elected as required by a federal court case brought by Republicans.

            One judicial development that could help Democrats is if the SCOTUS outlaws racial gerrymandering altogether.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Jaybird says:

            I’m in the same district as my cousin. It’s a little over an hour drive from here. He’s in a relatively rural area, I’m in a dense urban area. The obvious reason for this is so that the area I live in (populous, blue) can eliminate the influence of the people out where he lives. The key in the design is how every district has a little arm reaching into the metro corridor. It’s really ridiculous since it’s not like this would ever be a red state and the red we have of any consequence is Larry Hogan.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

        I also want a reasonably informed person to be able to look at a region and be able to guess the shared interest of the region on the first or second guess

        Today, the shared interests are not geographical in nature, they are related to whether we are talking about urban, suburban, or rural communities.

        And that’s how I would apportion the house(s)

        By creating compact districts of homogeneous population density. Those would represent people that really face the same issues day by day.

        Gerrymandering is based in representing the voters, and not the people. That’s where the problem starts. Republican or Democrat, representatives that vote against building highways in a compact suburban district won’t last long (not that I believe highways are good, just an example, guys). Likewise, urban representatives will vote for more funds for education and less funds for rural broadband. And that’s the way it should be. Rural representatives will, instead, fight for milk or corn subsidies,

        Yes, the rural districts would probably be not very compact because they would grab all that is not urban or suburban, but in principle their issues should also be similar.

        The way I would draw the districts would be as follows: i’d start with the densest census tract in the state, then I would add the densest tract contiguous to the first; keep adding tracts from more to less dense until you meet the population requirement. You start again with the most dense tract outside of the first district, and so on and so forth. Whatever remains after the N-1th district will be the last, least dense, district. You shift here and there some tracts to make sure you create compact districts that try not to overstep rivers, mountains, or county or city limits, as appropriate.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

        The center of Colorado’s US House map looks fairly bad unless you know the geography. Denver has an odd shape for historical reasons, particularly after DIA was added, and for various reasons no one wants Denver split up. The donut of the Denver suburbs has to be split in half somehow, and they’re all going to look bad.

        The interesting question in Colorado in 2021 will be how to split the Front Range up after they get the new House seat.Report

    • Avatar Jesse in reply to Michael Cain says:

      “Here in Colorado, building districts based on making them all competitive would require splitting both Denver and Colorado Springs across several/many districts — a situation that no one in or outside of those cities wants.”

      I’m pretty sure if Colorado ever starts electing large Republican majorities with minorities of the vote (ala Wisconsin), many people in Colorado would be much more ready to have some ugly looking districts if it means they better reflect the actual voting intentions of the larger populaceReport

  2. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    I’m somewhat surprised. I figured the SCOTUS would issue one of those rulings that left open the possibility that it would intervene in a partisan-gerrymandering case, but the prospect would remain theoretical. It is a difficult argument to make from any originalist perspective since partisan gerrymandering existed at the outset (Patrick Henry made sure that Virginia’s first districting would preclude James Madison from serving in the Senate for his part in the Federalist coup), and there is no express right to vote in the Constitution. From a functional standpoint, the obvious complaint is that leaving political questions to the political process to resolve won’t work because the winners are using the districts to control the political process.

    I’ve only read the synopsis and probably won’t read any of the opinion. This door has been shut, probably for at least a generation.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw says:

      My own observation is that the Supreme Court has been generally swinging back towards the states on matters of state vs federal jurisdiction. With Kennedy gone, the swing will likely proceed faster and cover more subjects. My lunatic fringe version is, “The Court knows some states will behave badly given increased authority, but the Justices driving that swing don’t care because they and their families will never live in those states.” IIRC, with the exception of Gorsuch, all of them have spent the very large majority of the last 30 years in the NE urban corridor.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Michael Cain says:

        This isn’t an issue of federalism, it’s an issue of separation of powers.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to InMD says:

          I’m kind of fuzzy on this whole separation of powers thing, but it essentially means that none of the three branches are allowed to check the other two, right?Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            The very simple version is that the court won’t intervene in decisions of another branch where the constitution gives that branch discretion. Those matters are called ‘political questions’ and are to be worked out in the political process.

            This is where you get to PD Shaw’s point above about whether the political process can solve something where the problem is a direct result of politics. I do think the outcome is consistent with precedent, not that its particularly comforting.Report

  3. Avatar James K says:

    Honestly, it might just be better to move to proportional representation for the House of Representatives.Report

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