Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that constitutional lawsuits over partisan gerrymandering “present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” Now, voters who sue legislatures over district lines that are drawn to a particular party’s advantage cannot appeal to a higher level of government to get partisan maps blocked.
The 5-4 decision has been heralded as a victory for Republicans, the party in control of most U.S. statehouses. And it positions them to grow that power in the future, as Republicans can gerrymander electoral maps yet more aggressively in their favor after next year’s census. So, too, can Democrats in the states where they dominate, carving the U.S. into a “jigsaw of disunity,” to borrow one journalist’s turn of phrase. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote: “Of all the times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one.”
But the fight against gerrymandering will not stop with this landmark Supreme Court decision. Here are three avenues where redistricting reformers are pursuing their crusade outside of the highest court:
In light of the last week’s ruling, a gerrymandering lawsuit in North Carolina brought by Democratic voters and an electoral reform group will now turn to the state supreme court for an answer. The plaintiffs now argue that their congressional map violates the state constitution, rather than the U.S. Constitution. The case goes to court in two weeks; other claims by voters around the U.S. will follow that more local trajectory. There are hopes for reform on that front: In 2018, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a gerrymandered map that heavily favored Republicans, “Pennsylvania went from having one of the least responsive maps in the country to one of the most,” the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Read more by the AP and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Independent voting commissions
Left to their own devices, Democrats and Republicans alike draw electoral maps that accrue more votes for their party. (Republicans tend to exert more bias, partly because their voters tend to be less concentrated in cities.) But district maps drawn by independent, nonpartisan, or even bipartisan commissions can neutralize the effects of politics, researchers have found. Voters in Missouri and Michigan have recently called for them, but lawmakers are resisting in both states. Read more from the Washington Post.
Eric Holder’s electoral crusade
Eric Holder fought voter suppression as U.S. attorney general under Barack Obama. Now, as leader of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, he’s on a mission to help elect lower-ballot candidates for state supreme court judgeships who will rule in favor of fairer maps. Especially in battleground states like Wisconsin, where Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011 and drew maps entrenching their rule, Holder is battling to help Democrats take back power. But he’s also crusading against gerrymandering by all parties.
“We’ll continue to fight against map manipulation using every tool that is at our disposal,” he told Reuters. “But even without no federal guardrail on gerrymandering, this fight is far from over.” Read more from Mother Jones and Reuters.