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COLUMN: Gill v. Whitford case will set a historic precedent



On Oct. 3, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments concerning the Gill v. Whitford case, in which Republican legislators from Wisconsin have been accused of redrawing state assembly districts in a way that discriminates against Democratic voters, thereby violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

Continuing to permit these discriminatory redistricting practices is untenable to the democratic ideals of the American people, and I urge the Supreme Court to set a judicial standard for partisan gerrymandering, if not eliminate it entirely.

In 1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry redistricted Essex County into a vaguely salamander-shaped plot of land that was clearly designed to benefit his own political party. Thus gerrymandering, the act of altering district boundaries for political gain, was born. 

More than 200 years later, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to end this manipulative practice for good. 

The Gill v. Whitford case rides on the coattails of a similar 2004 case, Vieth v. Jubelirer, which established that "there was no standard for adjudicating cases of partisan gerrymandering,” according to the Washington Post. It led to redistricting in 2010 that some experts said demonstrated historically unprecedented bias. 

Various Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, and former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, of Arizona, have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to end this practice. 

Their actions directly oppose those of the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee, which have all filed their own briefs in support of the continued use of partisan gerrymandering. 

Historically, both parties have used these redistricting practices to the benefit of their own representatives and constituents, and the Republican party has been found guilty of gerrymandering along racial lines as recently as this year, which, unlike partisan gerrymandering, was made illegal by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Around the world, countries such as Australia, Canada, Britain and India have established nonpartisan electoral commissions to prevent any one party from using redistricting to its political advantage. 

While America would be wise to follow suit, others have argued that the easier solution is simply to establish conditions under which partisan redistricting is permissible or to create some form of litmus test to recognize when redistricting has begun to disproportionately favor a party. 

Newcomer Justice Neil Gorsuch is almost guaranteed to maintain his conservative stance and vote for the continued use of partisan gerrymandering, which leaves all eyes on centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy. 

Kennedy was open to the idea of limiting gerrymandering during Vieth v. Jubelirer but was unable to “figure out a neutral test to gauge how much is too much,” wrote Nina Totenberg for NPR. 

New computer modeling systems and analytic statistical techniques may provide one such solution, but others worry that similar technological advances can just as easily be used to ensure that either party maintains electoral control of a region. 

In the past, the Supreme Court has failed to establish where such a line should be drawn. Should it do so in Gill v. Whitford, it will have profound ramifications on how our political system works for years to come. 

Gerrymandering has been used time and time again to undermine our electoral system and consolidate political power. Justices and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would be wise to do away with this unjust and outdated system. 

jhoffer@indiana.edu

@jhoffer17

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