The Supreme Court dodges big decisions on partisan redistricting

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IN 2004, Justice Anthony Kennedy lamented that state legislators are “in the business of rigging elections” by drawing highly skewed electoral lines. If gerrymandering could be hemmed in by a “workable” standard for policing maps, he continued, “courts should be prepared to order relief”. Fourteen years later, on June 17th, in two cases lined up for the Supreme Court to do just that, the justices again demurred—this time unanimously. Challenges to extreme gerrymanders in Wisconsin and Maryland—one favouring Republicans, the other Democrats—faltered on technical grounds. 

The Wisconsin case, Gill v Whitford, ended in an anti-climatic fizzle: the plaintiffs lacked the requisite “standing” to sue, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, so the court is powerless to evaluate the merits of their claims. The chief reasoned that voters complaining about the gerrymander—in which Republicans took 60 of 99 state assembly seats in 2012 despite…Continue reading

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