WATCH: Supreme Court Finally Agrees To Weigh In On The Corrosive Effects of Gerrymandering

The Supreme Court is once again stepping in to determine whether an electoral procedure as old as the republic violates the Constitution.

Monday, the nation’s highest court announced it will begin looking into gerrymandered election maps for evidence of discrimination against minorities. If uncovered, the results from the Court’s decision could fundamentally change how we conduct elections.

Gerrymandering is the process by which electoral officials manipulate district boundaries to favor particular political parties. It has been standard practice since before the first United States Congress’ election in 1789.

According to Wikipedia:

“The word ‘gerrymander’ (originally written ‘Gerry-mander’) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette (not to be confused with the Boston Gazette) on 26 March 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then-governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced /ˈɡɛri/; 1744–1814). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts to the north of Boston was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.[2]

Though obviously partisan, it’s perfectly legal. In fact, Supreme Court justices are frequently called upon to invalidate state electoral maps deemed to have been illegally drawn to depress racial minorities’ electoral influence.

Some justices have argued whether they should even go that far.

However, a divided panel of three federal judges in Wisconsin last year ruled the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 forced a redistricting plan that violated the Constitution’s First Amendment protecting free speech and Fourteenth Amendment providing equal protection under the law.

After agreeing to hear the case, the Court voted five to four to stay the lower court’s decision requiring the state to redraw legislative districts this fall. But Wisconsin argued that would create unnecessary work should the Supreme Court later decide to overturn the lower court’s decision.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, went on record stating they would have denied the stay on the lower court’s decision. The more conservative justices supported it.

As has always been the practice, both Democratic and Republican parties draw congressional and legislative districts to their advantage. In fact, a challenge to congressional districts Maryland Democrats drew is currently in the courts.

Republicans control more state legislatures, though; therefore, they would have more to lose should the Court deem the current procedure unconstitutional. The Republican National Committee (RNC) and a dozen large Republican states have asked the Court to reverse the Wisconsin federal court’s decision.
Wisconsin legislative leaders asked the Supreme Court:
“[To reject any effort that] wrests control of districting away from the state legislators to whom the state constitution assigns that task, and hands it to federal judges and opportunistic plaintiffs seeking to accomplish in court what they failed to achieve at the ballot box.”
Despite Republicans receiving only 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, it took a 60-to-39 seat advantage in the Wisconsin State Assembly in the election held after the state adopted the new district maps.

Voters across Wisconsin serving as plaintiffs state:

“Republican legislative leaders authorized a secretive and exclusionary mapmaking process aimed at securing for their party a large advantage that would persist no matter what happened in future elections.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Paul Smith, said:
“Partisan gerrymandering of this kind is worse now than at any time in recent memory. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen’s right to freely choose their representatives.”
This issue is not isolated to Wisconsin. Many politicians – some who benefited tremendously from gerrymandering – are criticizing the process.
Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), is one of them. He stated:
“Because legislators were drawing their own districts, they were picking their voters and virtually assuring their own re-election. Most politicians came from hardcore Democratic districts or hardcore Republican districts and had no incentive to leave their partisan corners to come together for the people of California. In 265 congressional elections over the past decade, only ONE seat changed party hands. We had no turnover. Politicians were so safe in their jobs, they had no reason to fear a voter backlash or to even feel accountable to us.”
Eric Holder, Attorney General under President Barack Obama, chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NRDC).
According the NRDC website:
“The NDRC is building a targeted, state-by-state strategy that ensures Democrats can fight back and produce fairer maps in the 2021 redistricting process.”

Supreme Court Justices will begin hearing arguments in October.

Check out this video for more information about the case currently waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court (after the jump):

Featured Image: Screenshot Via YouTube Video.

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.